Republicans Consider Possibility of Convention Battle

Republican Convention Photo by Thursday Review

Photo by Thursday Review

Republicans Consider Possibility of Convention Battle

| published December 11, 2015 |

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor


The Washington Post is reporting that some among the Republican Party’s top fundraisers and strategists are seriously considering a plan to halt Donald Trump’s nomination through a convention floor fight. The loosely-formed coalition may already enjoy the backing of some top GOP elected officials as well. The discussion came up in a Monday meeting between Republican leaders and Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus.

Top GOP strategists and RNC officials are also looking at the possibility that the party will produce no clear winner even after scores of primaries and caucuses, and with a field of one dozen-plus candidates able to remain well-funded and actively campaigning, a widely-split vote could mean no clear winner as late as six weeks before the convention.

The proposal comes amidst concerns that Trump may prove to be an unacceptable candidate in a theoretical head-to-head match-up with Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. Trump, though leading in most polls among Republican candidates in a crowded race, fares poorly against Clinton in some national polls. Trump has also come under fire for his many boisterous and frequently offensive comments, some of which have had the effect of pushing ethnic and religious minorities away from the Republican Party.

The party produced a widely-disseminated internal report after the loss of Mitt Romney in 2012 which said that only by attracting minorities would the GOP be able to remain viable in future national elections, and for many Republican thinkers, Trump’s recent campaign comments have been damaging to that outreach.

A brokered convention is extremely rare in contemporary times. The last time the Republican Party experienced any form of drama going into a national convention was in 1976, when then-candidate Ronald Reagan challenged President Gerald Ford for the nomination. Though Reagan and Ford battled for the loyalty of every delegate right up to the start of the convention, Ford mustered enough support from party regulars to effectively halt Reagan insurrection by the time the convention came to order on its first day. Democrats have not experienced a brokered convention since 1968, when Hubert Humphrey secured the nomination after a bruising and emotional political fight which came in the wake of the assassination of Robert Kennedy earlier the same summer.

The GOP has been especially effective at avoiding a brokered convention for decades, largely because the party is traditionally better at producing a consensus candidate early in the primary and caucus process. In recent years, the Republican nominee apparent emerges shortly after Super Tuesday. In 2012, Romney became the front-runner after Florida, but faced a tough fight against well-funded insurgencies which included former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and Texas Congressmen Ron Paul. Despite those robust challenges, Romney secured the nomination and received the support of his former rivals.

According to some Republican strategists, there are two stop-Trump scenarios in play. The first considers the possibility that Trump remains on top in the polling and through part of the primary and caucus season, but—because of consistent challenges from his well-funded rivals such as Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Dr. Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Rand Paul and others—is unable to reach the magic number of delegates prior to the start of the convention next summer. In this scenario, the convention opens without a clear mandate, and a floor fight begins to sort out who will be the party’s nominee.

In the second scenario, Trump arrives as the apparent winner numerically, but is challenged after arriving at the convention by delegates and others who would find his candidacy unacceptable for a general election. However, an outright challenge to Trump’s claim to the nomination would be both controversial, and an unlikely scenario. Still, with so many within the GOP establishment concerned that Trump is damaging the Republican brand—perhaps with irreparable consequences for the future—any scenario is possible.

Some current GOP candidates have said as much, including former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, who has predicted disaster for the Republican Party next November if Trump becomes the party’s nominee. In response to Trump’s recent call to ban the entry of all Muslims into the United States, Bush called Trump “unhinged.” South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said Trump was “a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.”

The RNC is bound by its own rules and protocols to remain neutral, and may not be in a position to back any anti-Trump movement, at least not under the current circumstances. In addition, Trump and the RNC signed an agreement months ago which said that the party would remain neutral toward Trump and his candidacy in exchange for a pledge from the billionaire real estate mogul and hotel owner that he would not abandon the GOP and run as an independent candidate in 2016. The party has issued a brief statement saying it is bound by federal and party guidelines to remain fair and neutral.

However, that statement issued by the RNC’s Sean Spicer also leaves the door slightly ajar, adding the caveat “…the rules are set until the convention begins next July.”

“Our goal is to ensure a successful nomination and that requires us thinking through every scenario, including a contested convention.” Translation: if Donald Trump has not secured enough delegates to win the nomination outright by July, Republicans can expect a fight on the floor of the convention.

At least one other candidate has already expressed anger that the RNC and some top GOP officials and leaders are considering moves to take the reins of the convention away from delegates and popular voting in primaries and caucuses. Dr. Carson said he will strongly consider leaving the Republican Party to consider running as an Independent in 2016.

"If this [report] is correct," Carson said in a prepared statement, "every voter who is standing for change must know they are being betrayed and I won't stand for it, and I assure you Donald Trump won't be the only one leaving the party." Many Republican strategists worry that if either Trump or Carson launch independent bids for the White House in 2016, it would likely split the GOP vote and make it easier for Hillary Clinton to win in a general election."

Related Thursday Review articles:

Trump’s Call to Ban Muslims Sparks Backlash; R. Alan Clanton ;Thursday Review; December 10, 2015.

Trump Signs GOP Loyalty Pledge; R. Alan Clanton ;Thursday Review; September 3, 2015.