- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 6, 2016

They aren’t fans of Donald Trump, but conservative grass-roots leaders are even less thrilled with talk of a brokered GOP convention or other attempts to try to head off the billionaire businessman’s presidential bid by taking it out of the hands of ranks-and-file voters.

The backlash is so severe that despite strategists plotting to try to orchestrate a contested convention, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus took to the stage of the Conservative Political Action Conference last week to insist it won’t happen.

Party faithful aren’t convinced.

“These people make me sick,” said David Gallante of Virginia, who is certain GOP leaders are cooking up plans to stop Mr. Trump, who he called a “clown,” and Mr. Cruz, who he supports.

“It makes your blood boil,” Mr. Gallante said. “They are just scoundrels. They are just scheming, lying, deceiving rats, all of them.”

Delegates to the nominating convention in Cleveland in July are bound to vote based on how their state went in the primary or caucus, but only on the first ballot. That means if no candidate has won an outright majority of delegate votes heading into the convention, things could get ugly, as the delegates could be swayed to change their votes on subsequent ballots — and the delegates are likely to be staunch party people, not friendly to Mr. Trump or even to Mr. Cruz.

Party strategists worried about the prospect of Mr. Trump as their nominee are plotting ways to ensure he doesn’t enter Cleveland with the 1,237 delegates needed to seal things up.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee, came out of hibernation last week to plead with voters to deny Mr. Trump, saying he would spawn a security crisis abroad and an economic recession at home.

“Given the current delegate selection process, this means that I would vote for Marco Rubio in Florida, for John Kasich in Ohio, and for Ted Cruz or whichever one of the other two contenders has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump in a given state,” Mr. Romney said.

Well-heeled donors also are funneling money into efforts to derail the former reality television star before the March 15 contests in Ohio and Florida — winner-take-all affairs.

Mr. Kasich, governor of Ohio, and Mr. Rubio, the junior senator from Florida, are insisting they’ll win their states. Former New Hampshire Sen. John E. Sununu, a top Kasich surrogate, said that if that happens, “it will be pretty much impossible for anyone to get to 1,237.”

“I think it is important that we nominate our strongest candidate as Republicans and not our weakest. That means, of course, John is going to win Ohio, and frankly, I hope that Marco Rubio wins Florida because that gives us the best chance of ensuring that Donald Trump isn’t the nominee,” Mr. Sununu said.

Mr. Cruz, though, warned against such efforts, urging CPAC attendees to rally behind his candidacy to ensure the nomination is settled at the ballot box, not on the convention floor.

“Anytime you hear someone talking about a brokered convention, it is the Washington establishment in a fevered frenzy, because all of their candidates, their golden children, the voters have rejected,” Mr. Cruz said. “If that will happen, we will have a manifest revolt on our hands across this country. So if you want to beat Donald Trump, this is how you do it: You beat Donald Trump with the votes.”

On the flip side, Mr. Rubio and Mr. Kasich are embracing the idea of a contested convention, knowing full well that could be their only chance of securing the nomination.

Some of their supporters also have done the math and say they plan to vote strategically at the ballot box in Ohio and Florida in an attempt to sink Mr. Trump.

“I am a Rubio supporter, but I know myself and probably 20 other people that I know that are Rubio and Cruz supporters combined are all thinking about switching our votes to John Kasich in Ohio,” said Austin Kaiser of Ohio.

Mr. Kaiser, 24, said the effort is not driven by any sort of party establishment, but rather by concerns over Mr. Trump losing the general election.

“My hope is that it would go to a brokered convention and we could settle on someone that Republicans could get around, and Trump is not the guy that Republicans can get around,” he said. “He is not presidential. He acts like a child.”

Many CPAC attendees, however, said they want to avoid a contested convention because they fear Republican leaders would silence their voices.

“If they did that, then I think I would be an independent next time,” said Linda Heinold of Maryland.

“We vote them in, and they don’t do what they told us they were going to do,” the 68-year-old said. “So if I am going to vote for a party because I like the principles of the party and then they do something as underhanded as forget about the people, then to me I wouldn’t want to be part of that party anymore.”

Mr. Gallante, meanwhile, was at a loss for words when asked how he would react if the nominee is selected at a contested convention.

“I don’t know if anybody really knows the answer to that question. I think probably virtually all conservatives, Republicans, they are asking themselves that question every day now and wondering what is going to happen,” he said. “Where is this going to go? What’s going to happen here?”

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