Trump, the GOP, and four days in July
In June 1912, the Republican Party seemed as though it might rip in two. President Taft was running in a hotly contested primary against his estranged friend, and former president, Teddy Roosevelt, as well as the progressive senator Robert Lafollette. Roosevelt, frustrated with the more conservative and tentative Taft, broke a previous promise and ran for a second complete presidential term, resulting in one of the most embittered primary battles in American history.
Ultimately, Taft prevailed, winning the nomination. In response, Roosevelt claimed the process to be wrought with fraud, and elected to run as a third party candidate, in his newly minted Progressive Party. Come the fall, it was little surprise that Roosevelt and Taft both lost to the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson. The Party of Lincoln was left to tend to its wounds.
As this year’s presidential election moves along, some have begun to wonder if history might repeat itself. While Donald Trump will very likely enter the GOP convention with a plurality of delegates, it is unclear if he will be able to corral the 1,237 delegates necessary to win the nomination on the convention’s first ballot. After this first ballot, delegates are not required to vote for the candidate whom their state assigned them. In short, should Trump not reach the magic number of delegates by July 18, the GOP will have to manage a brokered convention, negotiating and navigating a political minefield to convince a majority of delegates to coalesce behind a single candidate.
There are a number of ways in which a brokered convention could play out. First, Trump could convince the party establishment that even if he did not get the majority of delegates, his plurality share indicates that he should be the nominee regardless. Yet, a Trump candidacy remains such a dismal prospect to establishment Republicans, from Mitt Romney to Lindsey Graham, that they have began to stump for Ted Cruz, a man who has never been especially favored by the party establishment, to say the least.
Certainly, it seems likely that the #NeverTrump movement will fight to give the nomination to Cruz, John Kasich or perhaps someone who did not even run. Rumors of a Paul Ryan nominee have begun to circulate, and the speaker has refused to say if he would deny a last-second nomination.
Ultimately, it seems there are two outcomes from the GOP convention, neither of which bode well for the party. First, Trump could win the nomination, either outright with a majority of the delegates or by strong-arming the party to hand it to him to respect his plurality share of delegates. However, a Trump nomination is not likely to translate into a Trump presidency. In national polls, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders beat Trump with considerable consistency.
The other possibility would see that the #NeverTrump camp prevails, coalescing a majority of delegates behind a more palatable candidate, be it Cruz, Kasich or even Ryan.
However, if there’s a world in which Trump would take the second scenario sitting down, it’s not likely this one. Rather, Trump could always elect to renege on his promise to the GOP and run as an independent. And here, the 1912 election allusion is all the more compelling. Certainly an independent Trump campaign would derail nearly any chance that a Republican could enter the White House next January.
Still, even though none of these scenarios leads to a Republican presidency, the GOP may have bigger matters to consider – namely the people who have so fervently supported Trump. If the party cannot reconcile their complaints with its platform, it may soon find itself spiraling out of control.
Aidan Coleman, from Hulmeville, Pennsylvania, is a senior studying public policy, economics and ethics at Duke.
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