Stoddard: GOP reality check: Trump or convention fight

Stoddard: GOP reality check: Trump or convention fight

In a crushing rout in the Florida primary Tuesday, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpHeadaches intensify for Democrats in Florida Stormy Daniels set to testify against former lawyer Avenatti in fraud trial Cheney challenger wins Wyoming Republican activists' straw poll MORE vanquished Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioPut partisan politics aside — The Child Tax Credit must be renewed immediately These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Lawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine MORE, the candidate who once symbolized the future of the GOP. Trump notched wins in five of six states voting that night, securing a more direct path to the nomination, as chaos reined in a broken party still intent on stopping the winner, because it has nothing left to lose.

After John Kasich beat Trump in his home state of Ohio Tuesday, talk of a contested convention hardened quickly, and party stalwarts joined forces to prepare for one in July. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzHillicon Valley — Senate panel advances major antitrust bill Senate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Lawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine MORE, who is second to Trump in delegates, failed to win any states Tuesday (though Missouri had not yet been called as of press time). He insisted he is the only candidate who can beat Trump in a two-man race and has criticized the idea of a convention fight. Yet Cruz cannot beat Trump outright, either, and could only emerge on a ticket from a deal with the billionaire businessman or a deal with the very party “cartel” he has run his presidential campaign against.

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Both Cruz and Kasich desperately need money, but they don’t want endorsements, which didn’t help the candidates who had to quit the race. Former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDemocrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit Stopping the next insurrection Biden, lawmakers mourn Harry Reid MORE (R-Ohio), who had backed Kasich at the last minute in his state’s primary, said during a speech Wednesday he would be supporting the current Speaker, Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHow Kevin McCarthy sold his soul to Donald Trump On The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood Stopping the next insurrection MORE (Wis.), as the GOP nominee. Ryan, who immediately rejected the idea and spends his days saying “no, thank you,” had recently shut down a group working to draft him for the nomination by issuing a cease-and-desist letter threatening legal repercussions.

Insiders who see a path to derailing a Trump nomination at the convention say the non-Trump candidates have to start winning and amassing hundreds of delegates to prevent him from reaching the majority threshold of 1, 237 delegates by July. Behind-the-scenes party operatives will be working the delegate selection process, already underway in some states and lasting through the spring and into June. Those selections become critical, should Trump fail to win on the first ballot when delegates are bound, because Kasich and Cruz will likely both be vying for them after most are freed up on the second ballot. Delegate selection is governed by state laws and party rules and vary. Lucky for Trump, Florida delegates are bound through the third ballot. And Cruz’s Kansas delegates are his unless he formally releases them.

The argument against Trump, planners say, is that he can’t win in November. The scenarios for contesting a Trump nomination are all steeped in confrontation and controversy but would follow existing rules. “The media has created the perception that the voters choose the nomination. That’s the conflict here,” said Curly Hauglund, an unbound delegate from North Dakota said on CNBC Wednesday. “The rules are still designed to have a political party choose its nominee at a convention.”

With a contest in Cleveland looming, Trump must now do his own outreach to delegates, continue to win primaries and improve his polling against presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonNo Hillary — the 'Third Way' is the wrong way The dangerous erosion of Democratic Party foundations The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat MORE. An insurgent may face a disadvantage in a process where invested partisans could decide his fate.

“By the time you get to the convention it will all be about winnability, and these aren’t rank-and-file voters, they are party leaders, state legislators and experienced people,” said one veteran of several Republican presidential campaigns.

Officially, there is no plan for a contested convention. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said last week the party will be “100 percent for the nominee,” and while he stated a contested convention isn’t impossible, “I just don’t see that happening.”

A convention fight or a Trump nomination — the Republican Party didn’t see any of this happening.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.