Something surprising is happening. When Donald Trump won the Indiana primary, forcing his remaining opponents to drop out of the race, it seemed as though a Trump nomination in Cleveland was a fait accompli. Perhaps it is. Yet the battle over who should lead the Republican Party in the upcoming election is far from over.
Colorado delegate Kendal Unruh launched an effort to include a “conscience clause” in the convention rules. This new rule would free the delegates to vote according to their consciences, even on the first ballot, regardless of how their respective states voted in their primary or caucus. Unruh claims to have the support of delegates in at least 25 states, and has appointed seven regional directors to help whip votes to unbind the delegates. Once the delegates are free to vote their consciences, the theory goes, Trump doesn’t stand a chance at winning the nomination.
Such a move would be unprecedented in modern times. To many, it sounds like a pipe dream of Republicans living in a state of denial. However, this budding revolution received another boost when Reince Priebus announced his pick to lead the convention’s powerful Rules Committee: former Utah Rep. Enid Mickelsen.
Mickelsen is known as a close ally to Mitt Romney, the de facto leader of the #NeverTrump movement. Back in March, she told the Deseret News that convention rules, including those binding delegates on the first vote, are all subject to change. As a Mormon from Utah, she belongs to the most anti-Trump demographic within the Republican base. It’s hard to imagine Priebus picking a figure more sympathetic to the effort to dump Trump than Mickelsen.
This Requires an Acceptable Trump Alternative
Still, taking out Trump is nothing short of a Herculean task. Even if Unruh and her team can convince the delegates that disregarding the will of 45 percent of primary voters is a good idea, there remains the question of who should replace Trump as the party’s nominee. Many delegates fear that dumping Trump without having a clear alternative would lead to chaos.
Party leaders chafe at the thought of enduring round after round of voting with no clear winner. The battle that would spark within this power vacuum has the potential to destroy the party of Lincoln. If Unruh and her co-conspirators hope to avoid this outcome, they need to be able to show delegates an acceptable alternative to Trump exists.
To be successful, Trump’s replacement must fulfill three requirements.
First, delegates cannot hand the nomination to anyone who has ever run for president before, or who has presidential aspirations for the future. It is absolutely vital that this uprising is shown as a principled stand, and not a power play. If the delegates hand the nomination to Ted Cruz or Paul Ryan, even if these men didn’t ask for it, it will look like a cynical ploy to undermine the will of primary voters to gain position and power. The party would never recover from this.
Second, Trump’s replacement cannot be anyone associated with the #NeverTrump movement. Many Trump supporters will likely stay home in November if their candidate is denied the nomination. To stem the bleeding, the anger of jilted Trump voters should be directed at the delegates, not the nominee. Republicans need as many Trump voters as possible to show up in November, and the only way to do that is by ensuring the nominee has no record of attacking Trump. Conversely, the party should not nominate anyone who endorsed Trump in the primaries. If a politician helped create the mess we’re in, he or she shouldn’t benefit from it.
Finally, the delegates must ensure that Trump’s replacement is someone who can stand on conservative principles and govern effectively if he or she wins. Hillary Clinton is a deeply flawed candidate who does not represent the values of mainstream America. If the Republican Party can offer voters a center-right alternative who has a sterling track record of governing effectively, they may be able to win in November, even in the aftermath of a chaotic convention.
Such a Person Exists
So who fits this profile? There is only one option: former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels. Daniels left the world of politics back in 2012 when he traded in the governor’s mansion to become the president of Purdue University. Under his watch, Purdue is one of the only schools in the country actually decreasing tuition rates (an issue young voters and parents care deeply about).
Before his career in academia, Daniels was one of the most competent and conservative governors in the nation at the time. His two terms as Indiana’s chief executive were marked with budget surpluses and conservative tax reforms. He pushed school choice initiatives and championed pro-life causes. He even cracked down on issues related to illegal immigration, showing he can build bridges with aggrieved Trump supporters.
Perhaps most importantly, Daniels has no desire to become president. It will be incredibly hard for the media to portray him as a power-hungry politician who is subverting the will of primary voters. He will simply be a patriotic American, answering the call to serve his country.
Perhaps other options could replace Trump. And perhaps the idea of denying Trump the nomination is all just a fantasy. But Trump has rewritten all the traditional rules of politics over the past year. This upending of the natural order has claimed many casualties. Wouldn’t it be just if Trump were the final victim of his own disruption?