Would you rather be run over by a truck or dropped off a cliff? That’s more or less the dilemma facing Republicans at the convention next month.
Republicans do not have to accept Trump as the nominee. Changing the convention rules, organizing a walkout, or other strategies would doom Trump’s nomination. There is no enthusiasm for Donald Trump among Republican insiders or even among his assigned delegates. All that’s needed to stop the nomination would be a leadership figure supporting and organizing the effort.
The problem isn’t whether Republicans could stop Trump. The problem is how you cope with the long-term damage wrought by that choice. Damned if you do…
Stopping Trump would require serious Republican political figures to endorse moves that would compromise the legitimacy of the primary process, perhaps beyond repair. Exorcising Trump could only be accomplished by a fantastically undemocratic intervention by a fantastically unpopular group of political figures, which would frustrate the will of an angry, semi-literate mob. Sounds great, right?
On the other hand, placing Donald Trump at the top of the party’s ticket will split the GOP and finish off its already tenuous national relevance. Polls already suggest that Utah might be competitive in a Presidential race for the first time ever. The same dynamic impacting Utah, with conservative Republicans shearing off to support Libertarians, could put other red states including Texas in play. Nominating a different candidate in 2020 will not eliminate that legacy.
Since the party failed to repudiate Trump when it could have mattered (and in fact it still hasn’t), the only means left to stop him would be explosive. Republicans can watch the party implode in a more or less controlled demolition at their own hands, or let Trump do it. Both choices leave the GOP in rubble.
As damaging as a contested convention would be, it would probably leave the party better positioned to rebuild than if we hand the wrecking ball to Trump. However, acknowledging that situation would require a degree of sobriety, courage, pragmatism, and vision that no prominent Republicans have yet displayed.
No matter how severe the consequences, party leaders are unlikely to pass up an opportunity to do nothing. There is probably only one major Republican figure willing to blow up the convention to stop Donald Trump – Ted Cruz. He has been eerily silent. Unless Cruz has a card he’s planning to play, chances are the party will take the coward’s way out, letting Trump place his smarmy brand over Lincoln’s banner.