How the GOP could stop Trump at the convention

How the GOP could stop Trump at the convention
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Republicans might have one hope for defeating Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDems flip Wisconsin state Senate seat Sessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants GOP rep: 'Sheet metal and garbage' everywhere in Haiti MORE: denying him the 1,237 delegates he needs to clinch the nomination at the Republican National Convention in July.

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Party insiders who are deeply opposed to the businessman’s candidacy are looking at the plausibility of such a move, as he racks up victory after victory and the opposition to him remains divided among three candidates: Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWith religious liberty memo, Trump made America free to be faithful again Interstate compacts aren't the right way to fix occupational licensing laws Texas Dem: ‘I don’t know what to believe’ about what Trump wants for wall MORE, Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Cybersecurity: Bipartisan bill aims to deter election interference | Russian hackers target Senate | House Intel panel subpoenas Bannon | DHS giving 'active defense' cyber tools to private sector Senators unveil bipartisan push to deter future election interference Puerto Rico's children need recovery funds MORE and John Kasich. 

Such a gambit would be chaotic and controversial, however. It would likely also face one large hurdle that needs to be removed before the voting starts. 

As things currently stand, only a candidate who has the backing of a majority of delegates from eight states or territories can even make it onto the nominating ballot

The easiest way to acquire such backing is to win eight primaries. As of Monday, Donald Trump has majorities in five states, Cruz has majorities in three, and Marco Rubio has majorities in one. 

The eight-state rule would also plainly block the idea of some new candidate emerging at the convention — 2012 nominee Mitt Romney or Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders pitch children's health funding in plan to avert shutdown Lawmakers see shutdown’s odds rising Fix what we’ve got and make Medicare right this year MORE, for example — as a figure around whom Trump opponents could rally.  

The rule was put in place in 2012, as part of an effort to stymie backers of then-Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) from using other technicalities of the process to wrest the nomination away from Romney, who had emerged as the clear winner during the primaries. 

“That underscores the idea of making rules for one cycle that are trying to fix the problems of the previous cycle,” said University of Georgia political science professor Josh Putnam, an expert on delegate math. 

“It’s a recipe for unintended consequences.” 

There could be a way out of that conundrum, however. Delegates could change those rules again this year, to lower or remove the eight-state threshold — a move that would create uproar but would also be a huge boon to those hoping to stop Trump. 

“So much of this is going to be situational. We don’t know what the world is going to be looking like in a month from now, much less a couple months from now,” said Charlie Spies, the former lawyer to the Jeb Bush-aligned super-PAC Right to Rise. 

The eight-state rule aside, the rules of the nominating process create both barriers and opportunities for the anti-Trump forces.

For a start, Republican delegates are bound to the candidates selected by their state on first ballot. If Trump has amassed 1,237 by the time of the convention, it's essentially game over.  

If Trump is short, but within touching distance, of that mark, he could make a persuasive argument to the relatively small number of unpledged delegates that they should back him so as to avoid a divisive spectacle at the convention. 

But if he is short by a significant margin, all bets are off.  

"My folks tell me that nobody will go to the convention with enough delegates. And then you know it's a whole new situation,” candidate John Kasich said on CBS after Thursday night’s debate. 

Assuming Trump has a plurality, but not a majority, of delegates as the convention begins, there are two basic ways another candidate can take the nomination away from him. 

First, other candidates who have a substantial number of delegates can drop out before the first ballot, and urge their delegates to get behind a particular candidate, likely coordinating with other candidates to do the same thing to push someone over the top. 

This could be done before the first ballot is cast. But, self-evidently, there is no reason for a candidate to drop out so early if he thinks he could ultimately prevail in subsequent ballots.  

Second, candidates can – and likely will – wait until the second ballot, when delegates are no longer bound to a candidate and all bets are off. 

The problem then, may be that Trump — the author of “The Art of The Deal,” as he often reminds audiences — would also be putting his deal-making skills to work. 

But his opponents also have a strong card: Because about three-quarters of delegates are selected by state party committees without the input from the candidates to which they are pledged, many could have split loyalties, Republican lawyer Ben Ginsberg said Tuesday on MSNBC. 

In other words, while they are pledged to one candidate, they may be warmer to another, so those pledged to Trump might turn around and vote against him as soon as they are free to do so. But by the same token, other candidates would have to worry about the same issue. 

Those same delegates might also intervene before the voting starts, to ease the eight-state threshold, making it easier for another candidate to be placed into nomination. 

Trump supporters would surely react to any of these moves with outrage. But that might be a burden his opponents, and party elders, are willing to bear if the alternative is Nominee Trump, a prospect they believe could cause the GOP to come apart at the seams. 

- This story was updated on March 7.