Donald Trump hit a major roadblock in Wisconsin last night, winning only 6 delegates to Ted Cruz’s 36. That makes it much more likely that Republicans are headed to a contested convention in Cleveland. Trump still has a chance to get to the 1,237 number needed to win the nomination on the first ballot, but he’d have to win 56% of the remaining delegates in the states ahead to accomplish that.
Many Republican establishment leaders and longtime conservative activists who can’t stand Trump are celebrating today after Trump’s stumble, but are the alternative scenarios any better? Yes, Trump as the nominee could lead to both an electoral blowout in November for Republicans and a complete realignment in American politics that causes voters to leave the party in droves.
But what if he’s not the nominee? What if someone who got fewer pledged delegates or wasn’t even in the race at all comes out on top at the convention? Certainly that will infuriate Trump’s supporters, many of whom may leave the party themselves. The GOP has heavily relied on the Tea Party types as they continually see their share of minority voters dwindle. Could they win in November if much of their base of white voters stays home? And does Trump get fed up over what he sees as the establishment “stealing” away his delegates that he goes third party or encourages his voters to not support the Republican nominee?
Basically, the Republicans are faced with bad options and worse options in how 2016 plays out. Let’s rank those outcomes in how bad of an apocalypse it would be for the longterm future of the Republican Party:
Trump Secures 1,237, Wins On First Ballot
GOP Apocalypse Rating: 9/10
Don’t completely count Trump out of winning the delegates he needs before the convention. New York, New Jersey and California are still on the schedule, and he’s likely to win the vast majority of delegates from the first two. It’ll still be tough (use 538’s nifty predictor to see if you can get Trump to 1,237), but if he does, that’s it. Trump is the nominee of the Republican Party and goes on to lose the general in a blowout to Hillary Clinton.
He’s simply become way too toxic, angered too many voting blocs and will see both better-educated moderate and conservative voters abandon the party. The conservatives will likely come back next cycle, but suburban votes may be done with a party that’s gone so off the rails. An unheard of gender gap margin develops with women utterly disgusted by Trump. Latinos will see record turnout and may start voting for Democrats in the same percentages as African Americans do, dooming Republican chances for decades with the growing demographic. The party collapses or undergoes some sort of massive restructuring. Either way, it’s weakened for years and years.
Trump Fails To Secure 1,237, Still Wins At Convention
GOP Apocalypse Rating: 10/10
All the same problems develop as the above scenario, except in this case it’s delayed for over another month. The GOP convention starts July 18; the last primaries take place on June 7. The gap in time is going to be a disaster for Republicans no matter what if Trump doesn’t secure enough delegates. They’ll face a month and a half of stories about chaos and shady dealmaking. And Trump could still come out on top on the second or third ballot. Yes, Cruz’s campaign has lined up people to serve as Trump delegates in some states who will then switch after the first ballot, but we are talking about the “Art of the Deal” guy here. A contested convention will be all about deals and negotiations. Do you really want to underestimate Trump’s chances? He’s also already shown signs of softening his tone this week – Trump has a lot of time to remake himself in order to be more palatable to Republican insiders and delegates.
Ted Cruz Wins At Convention
GOP Apocalypse Rating: 7/10
Cruz’s campaign has consistently been the smartest in the Republican field, and their delegate strategy has netted them gains even in states they lost. Many of Trump’s delegates may actually be Cruz plants and will switch to the Texas Senator on the second ballot. He’s still going to be well behind Trump, but he’s the only candidate besides Trump who’s consistently won in every part of the country. His supporters on the rules committee may even try to block anyone other than Trump or Cruz to be an option on the second ballot.
But if he’s successful, Republicans will then have to realize: Ted Cruz is their nominee. Ugh. He may be the most ideologically pure conservative of the options, but that will be a major hinderance in the general election. His personality is downright bizarre and unlikeable most of the time. He still has barely any endorsements from his fellow Senators, pointing to just how disliked he is among people who know him best. He may actually do worse among younger voters wary of Clinton than Trump would thanks to his ultra right-wing views on social issues. And Trump’s base could very well riot at the convention if anyone other than Trump is nominated, throwing the entire party into chaos. Many likely won’t return to the GOP fold after Trump’s constant cries of how Cruz stole the race.
With Cruz as the nominee, the general election will play out as a more traditional Democrat vs Republican battle. That’s a fight Democrats have won the last two times, and there’s no reason to think Cruz is anything special that he’ll find victory where Republicans have not in key voting demographics. But at least he doesn’t implode the party.
John Kasich Wins At Convention
GOP Apocalypse Rating: 8/10
Here’s a fun fact: Marco Rubio still has more delegates than Kasich. The Ohio Governor somehow turning his 15% showing in New Hampshire and winning 47% of his home state into a launching pad to claiming the nomination is far-fetched, but it’s still a possibility. If he does, he’ll face the same problems as the above scenario with Trump’s supporters rioting. But many observers seem to think Kasich is the most moderate and reasonable Republican candidate, and therefore the best-suited for the general election. Those people are wrong.
John Kasich is a terrible candidate. The idea that he’s the most sane person stems from his debate performances where he looks tame by comparison to all the other yelling. But if you’ve ever seen him in person you’d think differently. He’s incredibly awkward interacting with voters. He makes weird dad jokes that makes him come off as unserious and goofy. He appears moderate enough to frustrate conservative voters, while holding an extremely conservative record in Ohio that Democrats will use to bludgeon him in the Fall. Give Kasich enough media coverage and he’ll destroy himself. Republicans who think Kasich is their answer haven’t been paying enough attention. He could deliver Ohio for the Republicans, but will face the same kind of problems other Republican nominees have across the rest of the country. And his alienation of both Trump and conservative voters will set the party back once again.
A Former Candidate Like Marco Rubio Or Scott Walker Wins At Convention
GOP Apocalypse Rating: 6/10
If Trump, Cruz or Kasich don’t win on the second ballot, look out. All hell will break loose. At that point delegates may start nominating other Republicans. Some of the previous candidates could get another look. Rubio is still well-liked and seen as a potential savior of the party who could bring Latino voters back into the fold and give voters a clear old-vs-new choice between him and Clinton. Walker retains enough support among all factions within the party to be a consensus choice. But the problem with both of them is that there were reasons they lost. Walker was dull and boring, which actually might translate ok into a general election. And Rubio ran an awful campaign. Why would he and his advisers suddenly get better in a general? Plus it’s going to be damaging if someone who isn’t even still in the race emerges as the nominee.
Still, they’d both likely be better candidates than Cruz or Kasich. And they’re both people that the majority of the party can rally around, even if they’d lose disaffected Trump voters. But I don’t see them winning in November with all the chaos it would take to get them there.
Paul Ryan Wins At Convention
GOP Apocalypse Rating: 5/10
This might be Republican’s best scenario. But would Ryan want to do it? Speaker of the House is nothing to sneeze at, especially considering he could have that post for years given Democrats’ poor chances of taking back a gerrymandered House. And unlike in his odd accession to the Speaker’s chair, there’s lots of other consensus candidate options to choose from for the presidential nomination. It’s a lot of risk when he’s already achieved a nice reward.
But if he does get the nomination, Democrats should be concerned. His youthful and energetic persona would be an appealing choice for voters. Democrats can paint him with the same concerns over an extreme conservative agenda, but he doesn’t look the part. Again, defection of Trump voters and a potential third party run by Trump himself will still make things difficult, but at least Ryan would save the party and move it into the future. However, if Ryan does get sworn in as President, I fully expect him to tear off his mask and reveal that he’s actually Frank Underwood considering the insane maneuvering it would take to get him into both the Speaker’s chair and White House.
Mitt Romney Wins At Convention
GOP Apocalypse Rating: 9/10
Some people still think this is an option. They see Romney’s involvement in the effort to stop Trump by helping out Cruz, Kasich and Rubio as actually an attempt to divide the delegates to ensure a contested convention. One that Romney would sweep in and take as the redeemed white knight. That’s a pipe dream, of course. 2016 has seen huge levels of anger toward the moneyed class, and Romney embodies that and the establishment more than any other recent national political figure. And it would simply prolong the internal Republican debate over whether they’d do better nationally if they had a “real” conservative like Cruz or someone like him. The party would move backward on all fronts with Romney leading the charge again. And there’s no reason to believe he’d do any better than he did in 2012.
It would be fun to watch Mitt Romney finally live out every politician’s dream of losing a presidential campaign three cycles in a row. Eat your heart out, Adlai Stevenson.
by Pat Rynard