- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 28, 2016


With a few big-name GOP regulars, from moderate New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to conservative stalwart Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, now endorsing the agile Donald Trump, the billionaire businessman continues to flummox his party’s lumbering establishment.

The party’s powerful few — and for its own reasons much of the press — have argued for grabbing hold of one or another proposed plan to stop Mr. Trump. Some in the establishment find math getting in the way and already are planning for a brokered convention.

“Many Republican political elites out to stop Trump want all but one of his rivals to bail now,” said Dan Schneider, executive director of the American Conservative Union.

The one-on-one longing has a last-gasp air about it, said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a former candidate who upon his exit backed Jeb Bush’s campaign. “There’s this desire, verging on panic, to consolidate the field,” he said recently.

But Republicans not possessed of that desire see the writing on the tower and like it. “Trump is the next president of the United States,” said A.J. Spiker, a former Iowa Republican Party Chairman and an adviser to Sen. Rand Paul’s nomination bid.

The party regulars see the same writing on the tower. They hiss and plan last stands and counteroffensives.

“The key for Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, and to a lesser extent Gov. John Kasich, is to at least cut into Trump’s margins on Super Tuesday,” said delegate-allocation expert Jim Ellis, who was a political adviser to then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

“The important point to remember is that the eventual nominee must secure a majority of delegates, not just top the field in the primaries and caucuses,” he said.

“With three viable candidates remaining in the race, and a fourth who could score some delegates in northern states on Super Tuesday March 1 and [on] March 8, when Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii vote, it is still quite possible that Trump will finish first when the primaries conclude, but still be short of the necessary number of committed delegates.”

“Therefore, denying Trump a majority and forcing a brokered convention could soon become a conscious strategy for the Rubio and Cruz campaigns to implement,” Mr. Ellis said.

The theory behind One-on-One Strategy, Mr. Schneider said, is that it will allow Mr. Rubio — or a John Kasich, as the party establishment’s second choice — to run solo, without other rivals diluting his support, and helping Mr. Rubio get a delegate majority before the July nominating convention in Cleveland.

The problem with that idea is that Mr. Trump looks likely to finish far ahead of any of the remaining candidates in all the coming contests. The exception is Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas who is expected to win his home-state primary and a hefty share of its delegates Tuesday, giving him some bounce and incentive beyond mere ego to stay the course. However, Mr. Cruz is second only to Mr. Trump on the party leadership’s hit list.

Some strategists figure a better bet is for all Trump rivals to stay in the contest to accumulate their share of delegates, deny Mr. Trump a delegate majority and force a contested or “brokered” convention.

The theory that anti-Trump establishment has a built-in edge in a brokered convention also has its risks.

“Many political elites are playing Russian roulette with this election,” said Mr. Schneider of the ACU. “Some are trying to figure out how to deny Donald Trump the nomination, either by reducing the field to create a one-on-one primary, or by keeping the field large to siphon off as many votes from him as possible.”

This approach is designed to produce a contested convention, but a convention where nobody meets the delegate threshold would likely stress the Republican’s already strained electoral coalition even more, Mr. Schneider said.

“A year ago the elites thought they could shorten the election to select a particular nominee quickly,” Mr. Schneider said. “Now they’re considering protracting the election to select a particular nominee slowly.”

Mr. Spiker thinks that if the party establishment takes the nomination away from Mr. Trump at a brokered convention, it would risk destroying the party in order to save it — from Mr. Trump.

Mr. Schneider warned that the “elites need to learn that citizens don’t like being manipulated and they will not be ignored. They will stay home on Election Day.”

The problem is that although Mr. Rubio is the most popular second choice in most polls, he hasn’t won any of the four contests so far and may not win any of the 12 primaries and caucuses scheduled for Tuesday. The same is true of Mr. Kasich.

Mr. Rubio and Mr. Kasich also are both long shots in the 11 additional contests after Super Tuesday and before March 15 — the date on which state parties can grant all their delegates to the candidate who gets the most votes.

That means by the time Mr. Rubio and Mr. Kasich reach March 15, when eight states and two territories vote, they may have lost 27 consecutive caucuses and primaries. Mr. Cruz has Iowa under his belt and may have Texas and one more by then.

To stake the stop-Trump strategy on either Mr. Rubio or Mr. Kasich defeating him in two-man race seems a less-than-sound bet.

Which turns analysts back to that second stop-Trump plan, which rests on the opposite premise — keeping all five remaining candidates in the contest all the way to the last four primaries on June 7. That means Mr. Trump, Mr. Rubio, Mr. Kasich and Mr. Cruz (and perhaps last-placing Ben Carson) will divide up the 2,472 delegates to the July 18-21 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. And no one will have the 1,237-delegate majority needed for nomination on the first ballot.

From the second ballot on, delegates previously committed to a particular candidate are free to vote for anyone they choose. As are the 437 unpledged delegates who are party “regulars,” comprised of the 168 members of the Republican National Committee plus 269 current and former office-holders.

Sounds like a plan, but for the reasons Mr. Schneider and others suggest, not exactly a foolproof one.

• Ralph Z. Hallow can be reached at rhallow@gmail.com.

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