Despite dominating recent polls, the received wisdom of the political punditry remains that Donald Trump has little chance at becoming the Republican nominee for president in 2016.
I tend to agree with this assessment. The nomination game is, to put it bluntly, rigged.
Republican Party apparatchiks have numerous mechanisms built into the nominating process, including the ability to change the rules during the primary season to make it extremely difficult for any candidate unfavorable to party insiders to become the nominee.
We can be assured that these insiders will use all the tools at their disposal to make sure that Trump, who they see as toxic to the party’s long term success, is kept well off the ticket. Even with the tool set, however, stifling the Trump campaign may be far harder and messier to accomplish than the pundits among the press corps and perhaps the party insiders themselves, have yet realized.
Republican Party elites desperately hope, of course, that Trump’s support will simply evaporate. At first blush, this doesn’t seem simply like wishful thinking.
Trump’s endless stream of immensely idiotic invective would quickly doom any other candidate to irrelevance, but Trump is not like other candidates and it seems that the stupider the comment, the more his popularity waxes.
The more realistic hope for the party is that the non-Trump vote will coalesce around another candidate. Trump’s poll numbers while higher than anyone else in the race, are still, at their best, in the low 30 percent range.
Meaning that almost 70 percent of Republicans are not considering voting for him in the primaries. In previous races where there were a small number of establishment candidates, these numbers would have doomed Trump. But this time is different.
There are so many well-funded candidates all fighting for that 70 percent that it is entirely possible for the field to stay largely intact through March and splitting the non-Trump total. Such a scenario would allow Mr. Trump to win primaries with far less than a majority of the vote.
Assuming that this scenario plays out and Trump comes to the convention with a series of primary wins, the party can still pull the rug out from under him. Almost a third of the delegates who actually vote on the eventually nominee are “unpledged,” delegates who are party insiders who are free to vote for any candidate they chose.
Moreover, early voting states allocate their delegates proportionally so there will be a sizable number of “pledged” delegates at the convention who will be voting for other candidates.
According to party rules, not all delegates who are nominally supposed to vote for a candidate according to the state vote need to.
What this all means is that the Republican Party will have the votes needed to stop Trump at the convention. However doing so will be bloody.
Party insiders will have to disregard the popular vote of its constituents, a strategy that will further alienate the party from its base and enrage many of the rank and file.
We also know that Trump himself, to put it mildly, will not accept such an outcome quietly and will fight tooth and nail to be on the ballot. While the Republican Party can win such a fight, it will almost certainly doom their chances in the general election and will leave ill will within the party for years to come.
But if it doesn’t take on the fight, the Republicans will have at the top of their ticket a vile sexist bigot with a mouth like an open sewer. Even for a party that has dubious credentials on matters of gender and race, saner minds with the Republican Party still realize that Trump’s neanderthalism will do more long-term damage to their party than even the most vicious convention battle.