GOP could pay heavy price for contesting Trump nomination

Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump lawyer: Clinton 'murdered an ambassador' Democrats MIA on student loans GOP rep pushes Gingrich for Trump's VP MORE’s critics within the GOP are desperate to find a way to stop him from becoming the nominee at the Republican National Convention in July. 

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But even if that scenario is mathematically possible — a prospect that would require Trump to fall short of the magic number of 1,237 pledged delegates — it may not be politically feasible to wrest the nomination away from a candidate who will almost certainly have won many more contests than any of his rivals.

Trump warned during an interview with CNN’s “New Day” on Wednesday that “you’d have riots” if he ended up close to the 1,237 mark only to be denied. The mention of rioting earned him a rebuke from Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanRyan calls on US to forge trade deal with UK Senate Democrats block Zika deal ahead of recess Ryan: Benghazi report shows administration's failures MORE (R-Wis.), who said the next day that “nobody should say such things, in my opinion.” 

Regardless of the merits of raising the specter of unrest, there is no doubt that taking the nomination away from Trump would spark enormous outrage among the businessman’s supporters. But Republicans who believe that his nomination could devastate the party’s chances in down-ballot elections — and harm the GOP’s image for years to come — might believe that is a price worth paying. 

“The Republicans are damned if they do and damned if they don’t,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a Boston University professor who specializes in political communications. Berkovitz said that while “it is certainly a realistic fear that Candidate Trump will take down all the down-ballot stuff,” any attempt to thwart him would be fraught with difficulty.

Berkovitz said that in that scenario, Trump’s supporters “would say, ‘We wuz robbed.’ Okay, he didn’t get a majority, but he came very close and it was very clear through the primary process that he was the preferred candidate, fair and square.” 

Trump’s opponents seem sure to continue trying to capsize him, regardless of how much resistance they meet. 

On Thursday, influential conservative activists including RedState founder Erick Erickson held a meeting at Washington’s Army Navy Club to try to find a way to thwart Trump. One option under discussion appeared to be a “unity ticket,” perhaps involving Texas Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzTrump hires ex-Cruz aide as communications director Overnight Tech: Judiciary leaders question internet transition plan | Clinton to talk tech policy | Snowden's robot | Trump's big digital push Kasich doesn't expect to speak at convention MORE, who is currently running second to Trump, and the other major candidate still in the GOP race, Ohio Gov. John Kasich. 

If a unity ticket “is unable to get 1,237 delegates prior to the convention, we recognize that it took Abraham Lincoln three ballots at the Republican convention in 1860 to become the party's nominee and if it is good enough for Lincoln, that process should be good enough for all the candidates without threats of riots,” Erickson wrote afterward. 

Such suggestions aren’t just being heard on the right. On Wednesday afternoon, The Washington Post published an editorial online headlined, “To defend our democracy against Trump, the GOP must aim for a brokered convention.” 

“Does a respect for democracy require the Republican Party to anoint its leading vote-getter? Hardly,” the Post claimed. “We are not advocating that rules be broken but that they be employed to maximum effect — to force a brokered convention and nominate a conservative candidate who respects the Constitution, or to defeat Mr. Trump in some other way.” 

Much will depend upon the delegate specifics at the time the convention is gaveled to order in Cleveland. At present, Trump has 678 delegates to Cruz’s 413. The now-defunct campaign of Florida Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioSenate GOP campaign arm attacks Fla. Dem candidate over career The Trail 2016: Warren takes VP batting practice Abortion ruling roils race for the White House, Senate MORE has 169 delegates while Kasich holds 143. 

There are 19 contests left, with more than 1,000 delegates left to be won. 

Trump’s critics are eager to point out that, if he keeps winning delegates at his current percentages, he will fall short of 1,237. But the businessman’s supporters counter that this analysis is flawed because most contests so far have awarded delegates proportionately, whereas there are a rash of winner-take-all and winner-take-most contests looming. 

“We’re prepared for every scenario. But what we should do, and what we are doing, is spending most of our time trying to get to 1,237,” said Barry Bennett, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign. Bennett expressed confidence that the campaign’s goal would be achieved, insisting that the shift in how delegates were parceled out “changes the dynamic. It’s a big deal. We’re going to walk away with 80 to 90 percent” of the delegates still up for grabs.

Even Republican strategists who are not Trump supporters acknowledge that the businessman probably does not have to reach 1,237 itself. It would be sufficient for him to come close. Conversely, he needs to finish a significant distance short of that marker for any effort to rebuff him to have a chance of succeeding, the experts suggest. 

“The closer Trump gets to the magic number, and the closer we get to the convention, the more momentum Trump is going to have,” said strategist Matt Mackowiak, who writes for The Hill's Contributors blog. “If he is above 1,200 it would be tough to deny him. ... If he is at 1,050 or 1,100, that is far enough where he could have an issue.”

Bennett, the Trump adviser, insisted that he believed his boss would hit the target. “But even if he is, say, 30 votes short, that is half the seats on the [convention] floor, minus 30. It’s over. I think we are more likely to get 1,500 than we are to get 1,200.”