March 10, 2016

G. Terry Madonna & Michael L.Young

Super Tuesday the singular evolved into “Super Tuesdays” the plural, even coming to be called Super One, Super Two, etc. By this metric the primaries of March 1 and March 8 were Super One and Super Two —the upcoming March 15 events will be Super Three.
 
None of these super Tuesdays have been very super for the growing anti-Trump advocates. Trump’s victories on March 8 including Michigan and Mississippi may all but wrap up the GOP presidential primary. On March 15, the prizes of Florida and Ohio might close the door to any challenge to Trump for the nomination, especially if he wins one or both states.
 
Meanwhile the Republican establishment continues its frenetic efforts to block Trump, believing he may destroy the party for a generation - as well as cost the GOP control of the Senate.
 
So far, little of their efforts have borne fruit. Indeed, there is evidence of a growing backlash against establishment figures, notably Mitt Romney, the designated point man to take Trump down.
 
Trump, it seems, will inevitably leave Cleveland in July as the nominee of the Republican Party.
 
Or maybe not!
 
There are two ways Trump might still be stopped.
 
One way is to block Trump from winning outright the magic 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination – thus taking the fight to the convention floor. But there is a second option to block Trump – and it might be a better one given Trump’s delegate lead and momentum.
 
It’s a simple tactic pioneered forty years ago (1976) by Ronald Reagan: name the vice presidential nominee before the convention. The twist in 2016 would be if one of Trump’s leading opponents – Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Marco Rubio - names his other leading opponent vice president on a “fusion ticket.”
 
Reagan was the most iconic and certainly most popular Republican in over a century. What was good enough for Reagan might certainly be good enough for many other Republicans.
 
A recent Washington Post poll illustrates the opportunity. The poll reports that Trump leads all challengers, drawing 34% of the vote to Cruz’s 25% and Rubio’s 18%. There’s no real surprise there, as these numbers basically confirm what national polls have been reporting for months.
 
But here’s the difference: the dwindling GOP field now makes it possible to do “match ups” that simulate a two-candidate race. So, pollsters can measure who wins if the race was just between Cruz and Trump, or even Trump and Rubio.
 
Those results are stunning; Trump loses every time – by up to 13 points against Cruz, and up to 6 points against Rubio. In effect the least popular Republican in the race (Trump) is winning because his opponents are splitting up the anti-Trump vote. Naturally the anti-Trump forces would still have the task of delivering their votes to the fusion ticket – no mean feat.
 
Unfortunately for Republicans who want to dump Trump, none of his opponents are likely to leave the race soon – nor do they have any real chance of reaching the 1,237 delegates necessary to win on their own.
 
But Reagan’s 1976 tactic could change it all. In 1976, when incumbent president Gerald Ford was closing in on the nomination, Reagan made a bold move to stop Ford.  
 
Dramatically breaking with political tradition, he selected his vice presidential running mate before the convention. As a move to sway uncommitted northern delegates, he selected Pennsylvania Senator Richard Schweiker, a member of the moderate wing of his party.
 
Reagan’s tactic did not work in 1976 for many good reasons. One was he was running against an incumbent president for the nomination, almost always unsuccessful in American politics. It also didn’t work because Reagan himself was still then an unknown quantity, feared by many and not widely popular outside conservative circles.
 
But what didn’t work in 1976 might work in 2016.
 
A Cruz–Rubio ticket, a Cruz-Kasich ticket, even a Rubio-Cruz ticket might stop Trump. The math seems compelling. Trump clearly has a support “ceiling” not higher than 35 percent and these voters already support him.
 
Moreover, Trump has huge polling “negatives” averaging around 60 percent in most polls. In fact, about 30 percent of Republicnas say they won’t vote for him under any circumstances. It is this large number of anti-Trump voters that create a ceiling for him – as well as make a fusion ticket viable.    
 
Will such a fusion ticket be proposed?  If it is, will it be during the remaining primaries and caucuses – or at the convention itself? Either strategy carries risk. If attempted before Cleveland, a voter backlash may well develop; if proposed at the convention, delegate reaction is unpredictable as it was in 1976.
 
Clearly, naming a vice presidential running mate as part of a fusion ticket could be seen as an act of desperation. Moreover, if Trump perceives the effort to be little more that the establishment wing unfairly denying him the nomination, an independent Trump candidacy is all but certain.
 
Republicans seem to have only bad choices here. But they should be wary of making the merely bad the enemy of the worst.  Their worst choice now would be to make no choice at all.

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Politically Uncorrected™ is published twice monthly, and previous columns can be viewed at http://www.fandm.edu/politics. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any institution or organization with which they are affiliated. This article may be used in whole or part only with appropriate attribution. Copyright © 2016 Terry Madonna and Michael Young.