Republicans’ bid to stop Trump could risk break-up of party

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio see national meeting as their best chance to block billionaire

In uncertain times, search for a precedent to figure out what might happen next.

The internecine Republican Party feud sparked by Donald Trump's sweep of 10 of the first 15 nominating states in the Republican presidential contest has sent pundits scrambling for the history books to see how events may play out.

Trump's nationalistic, misogynistic, racist, brutal campaign has alarmed party elders in Washington, who fear its effect on the Republican Party's standing among the voters required to regain the White House and win the nine battleground states that could flip control of the Senate back to the Democrats.

After the rebel candidate romped home in seven states on Tuesday, Mitt Romney joined the elders trying to circle the wagons around the billionaire outsider with a withering critique of Trump the man and Trump the candidate.


His carefully choreographed attack coincided with reports that the 2012 Republican presidential nominee had asked his advisers to look at how they could block Trump at the party's national convention in Cleveland, Ohio, in July when this year's nominee will be formally named.

Magic number

The magic number is 1,237 – that’s the number of delegates Trump needs to lock down the nomination. Trump leads with 319 delegates, ahead of Texas senator

Ted Cruz

on 226, Florida senator

Marco Rubio

on 110 and Ohio governor

John Kasich

on 25.

If the upcoming states to vote next week follow the pattern of the past 15, then Trump could lead by 485 delegates to Cruz’s 355.

The crunch date is March 15th – coincidentally, the day the Taoiseach hands the St Patrick's Day bowl of shamrock to Barack Obama – when the winner-take-all states of Florida (99 delegates) and Ohio (66) vote.

Trump is up “big league” as he might say (or is it “bigly”?) in Florida’s polls and has an edge in Ohio.

If he wins both states, his path to 1,237 would become much easier, as their home- state losses would push Kasich and Rubio out of the race and Trump would receive a boost in support.

That would turn Cleveland into a pitched battle for delegates on the floor of the convention.

Some pundits have suggested it could lead to the break-up of the Republican Party if the establishment tried to over-rule Trump’s delegates by imposing an establishment figure over the heads of a large bloc of voters who have chosen the billionaire businessman.

While not conceding the race to Trump before July, the Cruz and Rubio camps have admitted their best opportunity of winning the nomination may come at a contested convention.

This would involve a fight for delegates in Cleveland. The last time that happened was in 1976 when president Gerald Ford overcame an all-out fight with former California governor Ronald Reagan and a struggle over proposed rule amendments that would have forced Ford to name his vice-presidential candidate before the presidential ballot.

Among the more bizarre ideas floated by the establishment now, should Cruz and Rubio fall before July, is the parachuting in of Romney or House speaker Paul Ryan as the anti-Trump alternative.

Elizabeth Drew, the veteran political journalist and author, who wrote about that convention in her book, American Journal: The Events of 1976, says both parties have had contested conventions in the past "and the country has survived", but that such a convention could be "a dangerous situation now."

Less tolerance

“The country and our politics have changed since then,” she said. “There’s less flexibility and tolerance for an opponent.”

She elaborated on the scenario in this week’s New York Review of Books , noting “the idea of a brokered convention assumes that there is some collection of people who are in a position to be brokers.

“But the old bosses – governors, the party chairman, and also, in the case of the Democrats, big city mayors and labour leaders – haven’t been a force for nearly half a century at the conventions, which have long favoured grassroots forces demanding to be heard,” wrote Drew.

Trump has signed a loyalty pledge saying he would support the eventual nominee, which would rule out an independent Trump candidacy that would surely hand victory to the Democrats.

The billionaire has wobbled on this, though he repeated the pledge at a raucous debate on Thursday.

Asked for a commitment too, Rubio, Cruz and Kasich said at the debate that they would support Trump if he was chosen as the nominee.

“Sometimes, he makes it a little hard,” said the sunnily-disposed Kasich, qualifying his support in what must be for his fellow establishment Republicans the understatement of the election.