- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

NEWS ANALYSIS:

The specter of a brokered GOP convention, dreaded by the party’s establishment, became more plausible after Monday’s Iowa caucuses, part of the double whammy dealt to Donald Trump by his disappointing four-percentage point loss to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

Mr. Cruz’s win and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s surprisingly strong third-place finish increase the possibility of at least three candidates duking it out all the way to the July 18-21 Republican National Convention, with none winning a majority of delegates along the way, according to the mathematics of the state-by-state delegate allocation that Republicans follow.

It means Mr. Trump will have to refashion himself and his campaign to hold on to his front-runner status. But it also means he will struggle under yet more pressure to win the requisite majority of delegates from 50 states, five territories and the District of Columbia going into the national nominating convention.

“The caucuses ended in a virtual three-way tie last night, with no candidate receiving even 30 percent of the vote, which suggests a possible contested convention in Cleveland,” said Jim Ellis, ex-political adviser to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Eagle Forum President and former Missouri GOP Chairman Ed Martin sees it as a three-major candidate field now.

“It’s Cruz, Trump, Rubio, all with momentum and money — or the proven ability to raise dollars — to go the distance. So this thing trudges on to an open convention,” he said.

If Mr. Trump doesn’t win on the first ballot in Cleveland, all the delegates — Mr. Trump’s and everyone else’s — become free to line up with the candidate of their choice on the second and any subsequent ballots, until a consensus candidate can win a majority of delegates and the party’s nomination.

Mr. Trump’s two top campaign generals, Corey Lewandowski and Chuck Laudner, haven’t shown the ability — or haven’t been granted permission — to build the kind of organizations in the states that ensure that go-to-the-mat loyalists get elected as delegates to the Cleveland convention. Many convention delegates can be expected to be secretly in the camp of candidates other than those to whom they are bound by the outcome of their state’s primary or caucuses.

Mr. Cruz demonstrably had the best organization in Iowa and can be presumed to have good ones in other states. But the nomination contest and the Texan’s place in it look kaleidoscopic at this point.

Mr. Rubio is expected to be the beneficiary of major GOP donors and others influential in a party establishment with low regard for both Mr. Cruz and Mr. Trump.

With the Ben Carson campaign looking like it’s going underwater, Mr. Cruz could be in position to garner much of the neurosurgeon’s evangelical-heavy support in future primaries and caucuses.

But Mr. Carson’s accusations of dirty pool against the Cruz campaign mean a Carson-to-Cruz voter shift in coming contests may not happen. Mr. Carson said Cruz supporters told voters in some precincts that the retired neurosurgeon had quit the campaign and returned home to Florida.

The Cruz campaign issued an apology for what it said was the incompleteness of its report to voters about Mr. Carson’s intentions.

It is expected that the party’s establishment will move in seen and unseen ways to coalesce support behind Mr. Rubio, further dividing the delegate pie in primaries and caucuses on the way to the convention.

It’s also not clear that the less-brash, more-humble Mr. Trump seen in Monday night’s concession speech will have the same appeal as the one who claimed he never lost in anything. But his personal magnetism and media-business instincts did get him to second place in Iowa without engaging in that state’s tradition of retail campaigning.

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