After Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s electoral wins Tuesday, the establishment has two ways to keep him off the ballot in November: rally around Sen. Ted Cruz and hope he beats Trump in a contested convention, or change the rules in hopes of nominating an establishment pick.
Either option could cause widespread consternation among Trump supporters if he has a lead in delegates heading into the convention. “There would be riots,” Trump said Wednesday.
The only other path to keeping Trump off the ballot — beating him to a majority of delegates before the convention — is highly unlikely, mathematically speaking, for any of the remaining candidates. Cruz has a difficult but clear shot — he’d have to win about 70 percent of the remaining delegates, and withstand unhelpful challenges from Ohio Gov. John Kasich if he stays in the race.
If Trump or Cruz miss the 1,237 delegate threshold, the Republican National Convention will be contested, and it will be up to the delegates to decide the nominee by casting a series of ballots. To stop Trump in that scenario, the establishment can choose to rally around Cruz or try to institute last-minute rule changes to the convention that would allow them to nominate an establishment pick.
Here’s how the convention would play out if the rules stand.
Only candidates who have won a majority of delegates in eight or more states would be able to compete for the nomination in a contested convention. The committee that meets ahead of each convention to determine the rules decided in 2012 that delegate votes cast for candidates who did not meet the eight-state threshold would not be counted.
“As the national rules now stand, no delegate votes will be counted in Cleveland that are cast for any 2016 candidate who can’t show support from the majority of the delegations from at least eight states or territories,” Morton Blackwell, Virginia’s member of the Republican National Committee (RNC) Standing Committee on Rules, explained in a post on Red State.
On the first ballot at the convention, delegates would be apportioned according to the voting results, not the current will of the delegates. Sen. Marco Rubio, for example, would receive some delegates. If no candidate emerges with a majority of delegates on the first ballot, subsequent ballots would be cast until one of them wins a majority of delegates on a ballot.
Delegates would be free in increasing numbers to cast a vote for whichever candidate they wish on subsequent ballots. But if they vote for a candidate who is not eligible to receive votes, their vote would not be counted, period. So in a scenario where Cruz and Trump are the only two candidates who qualify to receive votes under the eight-state rule, the party would have no choice but to unite behind one of them as the nominee.
That scenario obviously wouldn’t be ideal for the establishment. Former Speaker of the House John Boehner said Wednesday if none of the candidates can win “on the first ballot,” then he wants House Speaker Paul Ryan to get the nomination.
But to avoid rallying around Cruz they’d have to institute last-minute rule changes sure to tick off the candidates and many of their supporters. Cruz recently called the scenario in which Ryan or former Gov. Mitt Romney or Kasich swoop in from behind for the nomination a “pipe-dream of the establishment” that would “cause a revolt.”
Party leaders have two choices if they want to change the rules going into the convention, Morton Blackwell, also founder and president of the Leadership Institute, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. Either the major players agree by consensus to a change, or party leaders engage in what could be a damaging fight and force a rule change.
“If we change the rules now, I think the chances are overwhelming that some candidate will bitterly object and claim that the process is being rigged,” Blackwell told TheDCNF in a recent interview. “And there would be an ugly fight.”
“There are other major players who could cause a considerable commotion beyond Cruz and Trump,” he added.
Blackwell submitted an amendment to the rules before primary voting began that would have required every vote cast by a delegate to be tallied, regardless of who it was for, but it was considered and rejected. He saw that as a missed opportunity to implement changes that would be considered fair — before any primary votes were cast.
The RNC has so far maintained the party will unite behind the nominee, even if the nominee ends up being Trump, and has outwardly rejected talk of manipulating the convention to Trump’s disadvantage.
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