March 2, 2016

G. Terry Madonna & Michael L.Young

Barring some unforeseen circumstances the presidential nomination contests are over. Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump will be the respective nominees of their parties.  

For Democrats, that’s probably okay. Even if Democrats are not excited about Hillary, they still think they win with her.

For Republicans, not so much a Trump nomination looks like trouble up and down the ticket: no White House, maybe loss of the Senate, possible loss of several state legislatures and a few state houses.

In short, the GOP needs some “unforeseen circumstances” if, as many now believe, electoral disaster in 2016 is to be averted.

The party’s last gasp efforts to support Marco Rubio and stop Trump on Super Tuesday were clearly too little and too late.  Now the so- called “establishment Republicans” confront a fateful decision - to rally around Trump as a few already have - or try to derail his candidacy by drafting a convention “dark horse,” maybe Mitt Romney or even John McCain.

How exactly that would work out remains to be seen since neither party has had a contested convention since 1976. Moreover, the last brokered conventions were in 1948 for Republicans and 1952 for Democrats. And the last bona fide draft was more than 60 years ago when Republicans nominated Dwight Eisenhower.

One thing, however, is certain; if Trump is derailed, it will not be accomplished in the primaries and caucuses that remain; if it happens, it will happen at the Cleveland Convention in July.

The establishment GOP’s motive for trying to stop Trump is strong. Beyond almost any doubt, a Trump nomination would tear the Republican Party asunder – perhaps presaging a generation of wandering in the political wilderness – as happened to Republicans after Hoover’s loss in 1932 and to the Democrats after Humphrey’s loss in 1968.

Deeply aware of this ominous history, Republican leaders face a daunting dilemma: embrace Trump with its inevitable political costs – or move to deny him the nomination, thereby entering an uncharted political no man’s land.

For many Republicans this will more and more seem like a Hobsons choice which is to say no choice at all. A Trump nomination could destroy them as a major national political party – and few party leaders doubt that.

Further muddying these already muddy waters is the still real possibility of an independent candidacy.  The former mayor of New York City, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, is the most likely to launch such a candidacy.

At first blush, a Bloomberg candidacy may seem promising. Voters in recent polls have indicated they are ready for a third party and given the extraordinarily high levels of dissatisfaction with government, a Bloomberg candidacy would seem promising.

And Bloomberg, who has expressed strong personal concerns about Trump, might do it.

But his disadvantages are formidable. He has to start with no organization at the grass roots level and no candidates running for federal and state offices to be part of his team. He must also pull voters away from the major parties, a difficult challenge given the growing polarization and increased partisanship among the electorate. Finally, he must fulfill the myriad byzantine petition regulations required in all 50 states to qualify as an independent candidate – and he must do so in enough states to give him any reasonable chance to win the 270 Electoral College votes required to win the presidency.

Then there is the personal calculus for Bloomberg: an independent run by him is likely to draw more votes away from the Democratic ticket, earn the support of independents, thus helping his avowed antagonist, Donald Trump. Bloomberg in a real sense would be running against himself.

A Bloomberg run, should it happen, would certainly be a wild card in what has been the wildest of political years.  Nevertheless, his primary role would be that of a spoiler, whose candidacy helps Trump.

All of this presents in ever sharper relief the painful quandary Republicans now face. A Trump nomination could deal the party an electoral defeat in November that might take a political lifetime from which to recover.  An independent candidacy could help, but like all third party efforts, it is fraught with unknowns.

For Republicans, the only viable path forward is to stop Trump at the convention – somehow. But if they somehow can stop Trump at the convention, a Trump independent candidacy is all but certain.

This is truly a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea – the proverbial rock and the proverbial hard place.

Already in late winter, it’s clear that 2016 is likely to be a bad year for the GOP. The next few months should reveal just how bad it will be.

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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.