For the establishment and traditionalists within the Republican Party, tomorrow’s primary is likely their final opportunity to stop Trump. On March 15th, the Republicans will hold primaries in five states, including the winner-takes-all contests in Florida (99 delegates) and Ohio (66 delegates). In order to win the Republican nomination, the candidate needs to secure 1,237 delegates.
The trends in this election have already gone well beyond previous experiences and so-called norms. If it can be said that the young Sen. Barack Obama’s defeat of Hillary Clinton to win the nomination in the 2008 election indicated a break with tradition for the Democratic Party, then it may be said that the Republican Party is in the process of acting out a similar play in 2016, and that the drama of this play far exceeds what occurred in 2008 for the Democrats.
A year ago, a Jeb Bush that had a family aura and massive financial backing was assumed to be the candidate of the party leadership. In addition to Jeb, there was also Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his faction of evangelical conservatives. It was expected that one of these two men would obtain the party’s nomination. But a great change has swept over the party; following a bloody and incoherent contest for the nomination, we have arrived at a critical juncture, and those once deemed favorites have dropped out of the race either from lack of funds or continually low poll numbers.
Contrary to expectations, the unrelentingly shocking candidate Donald Trump, once a subject of the Huffington Post’s entertainment section, has emerged as a force to be reckoned with. As of March 13, Trump had won primaries or caucuses in 15 states, and stood as the Republican frontrunner with 460 delegates. (Note: This tally now stands at 19 states and 678 delegates) The gap between Trump and the second place candidate Ted Cruz stood at 90 delegates. (Note: the tally now stands at 255) The candidates sitting in third and fourth place, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are in a precarious position, and may even lose the primaries in their home states.*
Polls conducted last week showed that Trump will win in Florida and Ohio. The significance of this is that under the rules of the winner-takes-all system, Trump will obtain all 99 delegates from Florida and all 66 delegates from Ohio, for a total of 165 delegates in all. Rubio, Kasich, as well as high-ranking Republicans have all become incredibly nervous about this. It is easy to imagine that should Rubio and Kasich both lose their home states they would rapidly lose their fundraising capabilities and momentum in the election. Once the results of the March 15 primaries are announced, they might have no other choice but to drop out of the election.
Some political consultants have recommended that Rubio ought to immediately announce his withdrawal from the race, completely avoiding the possibility of losing in Florida. This would save face as well as preventing the loss from having a negative effect on his future political career, but it seems that Rubio is planning on fighting to the bitter end. At a March 9 rally in the town of Hialeah, Florida, Rubio was interviewed by anchor Megyn Kelly from the conservative media outlet Fox News. When he was asked about news of his withdrawal, Rubio denied that he would drop out of the race saying, “No, I am not dropping out, I am fighting all the way through. We’re going to win Florida.”
The attention that high-ranking leaders of the Republican Party paid to Trump is a case of not being aware of a problem until after it has presented itself. At the same time, the ideas for how to hold him back are varied, with the result that Trump has been able to win three out of the four primaries and caucuses held in February. It wasn’t until Trump had won contests in seven out of the 11 states holding primaries on “Super Tuesday” that the Republican Party leaders finally realized that this candidate who can’t keep his mouth shut wasn’t the joke they saw him as, and would not simply go away by himself. In many states, Trump was leading in the polls, and the prospect of Trump becoming the Republican Party nominee has caused internal division.
On March 3, the ex-governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, and Arizona Sen. John McCain issued successive statements, warning that Trump would lead America and democracy into dangerous territory. Romney used the words “fraud” and “phony” to describe Trump. Romney and McCain were the Republican presidential nominees for the 2012 and 2008 elections respectively, but both lost to the now-incumbent President Obama. Trump’s response to Romney was to call him a “choke artist,” a “failed candidate,” and a “loser.”
The issue facing the Republican Party leaders is now one of mathematics. If Trump manages to win competitions in both Florida and Ohio, then he will at the very least have reached 625 delegates. In other words, to reach the required 1,237 delegates for the nomination, Trump needs only to procure 44 percent of the vote in the remaining primaries. Of the contests already held, Trump has procured 42.7 percent of the delegates.
The Republican Party wants to resolve its issue of unity, but there is no candidate that has been able to fight on equal terms with Trump, making the only solution available at present a split vote. If Trump and the three other candidates manage a good showing and are able to remain in the campaign and split the vote, then Trump might be unable to reach the minimum number of votes required to obtain the nomination (that of 1,237 delegates). In the event that no candidate manages to obtain the support of more than half the delegates, then the July 18-21 Republican Party Convention in Cleveland, Ohio will end up being a “brokered convention.” This means that the party delegates can vote on whether or not to cast off the restriction that bars them from withdrawing support for a candidate they committed to in the primary election. In a legal sense, party delegates can choose to use this method to cast off the restriction against switching their support to another candidate. However, from a political view, the party delegates are given their power by the voters, meaning they need a good reason to change the candidate they are backing. For instance, were a scandal to break out surrounding a candidate on the eve of the national convention, then the party delegates could use this as a reason for changing their support to another candidate. The Republican Party hopes to use a brokered convention to stop Trump from becoming their presidential candidate.
It is possible that a breakup is occurring right now. Rubio urged his supporters to cast their votes for Kasich in the Ohio primary, because his popularity there was lower than 10 percent. As we get nearer to March 15, Kasich has finally surpassed Trump in the polls to obtain the leading position there, but Rubio’s numbers have greatly fallen behind Trump. According to NBC, the Wall Street Journal, and the Marist Poll Center’s simultaneous poll releases on March 13, Kasich is the frontrunner in Ohio with 39 percent of the vote, exceeding Trump’s 33 percent. In Florida, Trump has the edge, with a popularity of 43 percent, almost two times that of Rubio who is at 22%. If Trump wins in Florida and loses in Ohio, then he only needs to obtain 48.6 percent of the remaining votes to win the nomination. Although this is not impossible, this will certainly make things more difficult.
For the Republican Party, it doesn’t matter if Trump manages to win or not, it is still a huge headache. If Trump were to win the nomination, how would a man who says that Mexicans are “rapists,” and who has called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States manage to win the general election? Ted Cruz has repeatedly warned that if Trump wins the nomination, Hillary will win the general election. If a brokered convention were to occur, then who could the Republican Party choose that would win the presidency?
A brokered convention is a manifestation of a political party’s serious internal divisions, often occurring when the party in question believes its leading candidate is too weak, and is confirmation that the party would lose in the general election. However, no matter who has been selected in recent examples of brokered conventions, they have all suffered defeat in the end.
The most recent examples of brokered conventions occurred over a half-century ago. In 1948 the Republican Party went through three rounds of voting at a brokered convention, eventually nominating New York Gov. Thomas Dewey. Ultimately, Dewey lost the presidential election to the incumbent, Harry Truman. In 1942 the Democratic Party held a brokered convention, and after three rounds of voting, chose to nominate Illinois governor, Adlai Stevenson II, who lost in the general election to Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Ironically, the Republicans blame Obama for the sudden rise of Trump, saying it is all his fault because he did not rule well during his eight years as president. On March 11, Obama defended himself at an event for the Democratic National Committee, saying that the rise of Trump was the result of Republicans reaping what they had sown, noting that their party had over the last few years consistently provided voters with viewpoints that were untrue and denied scientific reasoning, while the party also convinced the electorate that compromise was betrayal. Several critics believe that the media are also to blame, only reporting news about Trump that would attract viewers, while avoiding focusing on Trump having not yet published his tax record, and other substantial issues.
As for whether or not Trump can be stopped, the crucial test is soon coming on March 15, which will decide the major trends in how the election plays out. If Trump has no means of obtaining the minimum number of votes and there is a brokered convention, it is still hard to tell who will be chosen by the Republican Party to oppose Hilary Clinton. Additionally, whether Trump will respect his promise to the party is another question. According to this promise, if he were unable to obtain the party nomination, he would not choose to run as an independent. If Trump obtains the necessary amount of votes and wins the nomination in July, many voters are of the mindset that a competition between Hillary and Trump will be a difficult decision between the “lesser of two evils.” (Hillary’s issue of trustworthiness and close relationship to Wall Street are both hurting her chances in the election.) In circumstances such as these, some of the smaller parties such as the Libertarian and Constitution parties might seek to present themselves as a third choice. History demonstrates that similar third parties always play the role of the “also-ran,” but then how many people predicted that the trajectory of America’s electoral politics would take its current course?
*Editor’s Note: Marco Rubio withdrew from the Republican presidential race on March 16, 2016. Sen. Rubio lost the Republican primary in his home state, and Gov. Kasich won the Republican primary in his home state of Ohio.