After all the sturm und drang of the Republican contests it appears to come to this: all signs point to a brokered GOP convention, as it’s unlikely that Donald Trump will reach the absolute majority of delegates required to take the nomination outright. If current electoral patterns hold, Trump will likely fall just short of the magic number required to win on the first ballot. Though I wouldn’t normally link to anything out of Breitbart, their delegate predictions showing Trump falling short by 50 to 100 delegates for the upcoming GOP contests seem sober and likely accurate barring unforeseen events.
If no candidate reaches a majority on the first ballot, the race moves to a second ballot in which the delegates are (mostly) free to vote for whomever they please. And that person will almost certainly not be Donald Trump. Whether it’s in Colorado where the Cruz campaign outworked Donald Trump to win all 21 delegates, or in Indiana where state and county party officials are so hostile to Trump that nearly every delegate will bolt from him after the first ballot, the table is set to prevent the clear winner of the majority of votes in the GOP primary from getting the nomination.
The beneficiary of the second-ballot vote will almost certainly be Ted Cruz. As Nate Silver notes, the possibility of Paul Ryan or another white-horse knight being nominated at the convention is fairly low, the actual human delegates making the decisions are mostly conservative activists from suburbs and rural areas all across the nation much likely to back a more legitimate hardliner like Cruz than the handpicked choice of the beltway and Charles Koch.
In either case, though, there’s the problem of what to do about Donald Trump and his voters. He (like the other candidates still in the race) has already rescinded his pledge to back the eventual nominee. If he is denied the nomination despite earning a clear plurality of actual votes, there’s no telling what he might do, but it would almost certainly be very ugly for the GOP. While the chances of an independent candidacy are next to nil, he would likely spend the entire rest of the election season creating headlines by sabotaging the eventual nominee and directing his voters to stay home and/or decline to vote for him. If even 10% of Trump’s voters chose to stay home, that in turn would have disastrous consequences for the GOP ticket both at the top and downballot.
One might say that a Trump nomination would be so toxic to the GOP brand that party officials will be inclined to take their chances on that scenario. There’s certainly plenty of data to show that while Trump’s voters might stay home from the polls in a huff, a large number of less populist GOP voters would refuse to vote for him in the fall. But it’s not entirely clear that Ted Cruz is any more likable or appealing to the general electorate–and Cruz’ actual policy positions on everything but immigration are significantly more extreme than Trump’s. So in essence Republican officials might end up infuriating the most dedicated and motivated plurality of their voting base for not that much advantage.
Would they really make such a move to protect social conservatism and Reaganomics from even the slightest challenge of Trumpist heresy? It seems increasingly likely, but it would be a shortsighted move.