With Donald Trump continuing to dominate the Republican Presidential primary the last hope for the anti-Trump crowd appears to be a “contested convention” scenario. Neither of Trump’s two remaining competitors, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, have a realistic path to the 1,237 delegates needed to win the Republican Party nomination. In an interview on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show on Tuesday Ted Cruz claimed that he could still get to 1,237 delegates, but also outlined a detailed strategy for a contested convention where he would overtake Trump. Cleveland.com notes that John Kasich has conceded that he will not reach 1,237 delegates, but says he is the only candidate who can beat Hillary Clinton and therefore he should be the one picked in a contested convention. Conservatives Against Trump recently released a letter urging all candidates to withhold their delegates from Trump on the first ballot to bring about a contested convention where another candidate can be elected. However, as outlined below there are some serious issues with the contested convention strategy against Trump.
First, there is a very real possibility that Trump will obtain the delegates he needs to avoid the contested convention scenario. A contested convention only occurs if no candidate obtains the majority, 1,237 delegates, on the first ballot at the convention. However, Trump is already at 662 delegates with a number of winner-take-all states remaining. Trump has a good chance of winning the winner-take-all states of Arizona (58 delegates), Wisconsin (42 delegates), Delaware (16 delegates), Indiana (57 delegates), and California (172 delegates). Polls have Trump leading in every one of those states except Indiana, where no polling exists. Finally, there is a strong probability that Trump will win all the delegates from New York (95 delegates) and New Jersey (51 delegates) by winning over 50 percent of the vote in those states. Given the delegates from all of those states, Trump would just need a minority of the votes from the remaining proportional states to obtain the 1,237 delegates he needs.
But even assuming the anti-Trump force is able to stop Trump from getting to 1,237 there are other issues with a contested convention. The most optimistic scenarios would have Trump at 900 to 1,000 delegates before the Republican Convention in Cleveland Ohio. Ted Cruz currently has 408 delegates. Under the best case scenario Ted Cruz would be in second place with perhaps, at best, 700 to 800 delegates and John Kasich would be third with perhaps 300 delegates. Just imagine the sort of controversy that would ensue should Trump or Kasich obtain the Republican Party nomination even though they lost to Trump when the “real votes” were cast by the people during the primary process.
Indeed, Trump alluded to the chaos that might erupt under contested convention scenario when he said there would be “riots” if he were not given the nomination even though he had the most delegates. At the very least, even if violence did not erupt, the Republican Party would leave the convention fractured and perhaps worse off than if they had just conceded the nomination to Trump.
There is also a real issue in uniting the delegates behind anyone other than Trump. Cruz is generally hated by the Republican establishment, and still has only two senate endorsements despite being the only Republican senator left in the race. It is hard to see the Republican Party establishment suddenly getting behind Cruz at the convention after he has spent the last few years privately and publicly defying them. Kasich has only won one state, and his moderate views will likely not go over well with the conservative base of the party. Giving the nomination to someone who was not even running for president, such as Mitt Romney or Rep. Paul Ryan, would appear even more undemocratic and lead to even more outrage from Trump supporters.
Then there is the issue of how Trump and his supporters would react in November. If Trump were not given the nomination he would have three potential paths: (1) accept defeat and support the nominee, (2) continue his candidacy as an independent, or (3) sue the Republican Party in court and continue to run as a Republican claiming he is the “true nominee.”
Anyone who thinks path number one is realistic has not been watching Trump for the past six months. There is simply no way would go down without a fight.
What that leaves is paths number two or three, in which Trump stays in the race even though he does not win the nomination. Under these scenarios Trump would rob the nominee of much of his most conservative, reliable base of voters. Conservatively, Trump would take 33 percent of the Republican nominee’s vote away from him, but the actual number may be as high as 50 percent.
In a general election where every percentage point matters a split Republican/conservative vote would lead to landslide victories for the Democratic Party nominee. In 2008 President Obama beat John McCain by 7.2 percentage points an won the Electoral College 365-173. In 2012 President Obama beat Mitt Romney by just 3.9 percentage points and won the Electoral College 332-206. If Trump split the Republican vote it is quite possible that Republican would lose 40 states or more as Clinton garners 45 to 55 percent of the vote compared to the Republican nominee at 30 percent and Trump at 15 percent.
Finally, there would also be a fatigue effect to a contested convention. The ugly “sausage making” process of the nominating process would be televised before the entire nation. Political deals would undoubtedly be made, and voters the Republican Party still had left would be disheartened and de-energized. Many of the Republican voters, particularly Trump supporters, would either stay at home in November or find a third party candidate to vote for instead.
For all these reasons a contested convention may be something more a dream than a reality. Or perhaps the better term would be nightmare.