Ever since Donald Trump won Indiana, those seeking to nominate a non-Don have been hoping to find a way to stave off his nomination at the convention in Cleveland.
Mostly, these ideas entail finding some way to get enough delegates to defect from Trump – either by voting for someone else or by abstaining – to deny him a first-ballot win. It’s no secret that many delegates pledged to Trump on the first few ballots are actually Cruz supporters, so the belief is that Trump will never be stronger than on that first ballot.
A long-time member of the Rules Committee, Curly Haugland, argues in his book, Unbound, that by law and national party rules, all delegates to the convention are not, in fact, bound. This is probably true functionally, but it will take some persuading, and a great deal of that persuading will probably take the form of rules fights, which will happen in both the Rules Committee and on the floor.
While there have been no confirmed reports of an organized attempt to nominate Cruz in place of Trump, rumors have been intensifying.
This is an exceedingly dangerous game that Cruz and his delegates may be playing.
I was there for the 2012 Denver Republican County Assembly, a descent into rules-chaos which few of the delegates understood, orchestrated by many in the Ron Paul faction. Rightly or wrongly, they felt themselves greatly aggrieved by the party “establishment,” and didn’t have much investment in playing by rules they felt guaranteed them to lose.
The Denver Post’s Spot blog was still writing about it weeks later.
This can be done right, but it will take preparation.
If there’s a productive way of getting another nominee at the convention – and if Cruz delegates are willing to settle for someone other than Cruz in order to make that happen – then it could be beneficial. This will mean a simple rules fight that everyone can understand, and that everyone can understand what it means.
I remember the 1980 Democratic Convention, when the Ted Kennedy forces wanted to unbind the delegates on the first ballot. Everyone understood what that meant, and that if they won, it would likely lead to Kennedy being the nominee.
The motion lost, as did the renominated President Carter in the fall, but nobody walked away wondering what they had just seen, or feeling that someone had tried to pull a fast one.
If instead, it’s a floor fight that nobody watching on TV at home understands, that just ends up dividing the party further and using floor speeches to attack party leadership and its institutions in the guise of “The Establishment,” then it won’t help in the long run or the short run.
Doing things that way, tying the convention floor up in knots without a clear path to victory, and attacking the party as corrupt or untrustworthy, it will remind Republicans of the Cruz they distrusted and disliked in the first place, the one who drags the party into losing battles and then blames everyone else for his strategic miscalculations, the one who wanted to be Robespierre, but failed to account for Trump’s Napoleon.
Moreover, those optics are a trap for Republicans. Democrats are planning disruptive, possibly violent protests outside the hall. Combined with chaos on the convention floor, it would cement the impression among voters of a party in disarray, a nominee being crowned on bayonets. It would be the Democrats in 1968 in Chicago all over again.
It’s possible that this is ok with Cruz, and ok with a lot of his supporters, who want to be seen as the leaders of the Conservatives in Exile within the party. They figure that after Trump loses, they’ll be in a position to seize the party and nominate Cruz; their model is Reagan in 1976, or Goldwater in 1960. But Ford didn’t enter the ’76 convention with enough delegates, and Goldwater’s tactics in ’64 left the party bitterly divided.
If the Cruz people want to do this right, they’ll start telegraphing their intent publicly well beforehand. They’ll explain what it is they want to do and why. They’ll come up with a plausible reason – John Fund has suggested the tax returns could provide one. They’ll do so with a minimum of personal attacks and rancor. If they’re able to succeed in pushing it to further ballots, they’ll be prepared for the possibility that Cruz can’t get a majority, either, and will support some other non-Don for the nomination.
That’s if they care about doing this right.