Brent Budowsky: The GOP’s worst nightmare: A runaway convention

Brent Budowsky: The GOP’s worst nightmare: A runaway convention
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With the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas dramatizing again the divisions plaguing the GOP, the unfolding battle for the presidential nomination suggests the growing odds of a runaway convention that could choose an unelectable nominee and bring a nightmare outcome for the party.

Growing talk of a “brokered convention” misses the essential fact of GOP politics today. A significant majority of Republican voters in next year’s presidential primaries and caucuses will almost certainly feel an intense antipathy toward the insider power brokers and large corporate-oriented donors who run the GOP establishment today.


This fact has translated into virtual unanimity of current polling that finds more than 50 percent support for the combined vote of the trio of candidates who embody this GOP anti-establishment movement: Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpCoast Guard chief: 'Unacceptable' that service members must rely on food pantries, donations amid shutdown Dem lawmaker apologizes after saying it's never been legal in US to force people to work for free Grassley to hold drug pricing hearing MORE, Ben Carson and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGroup aiming to draft Beto O’Rourke unveils first 2020 video Howard Dean looking for a 'younger, newer' Democratic nominee in 2020 Congress can stop the war on science MORE.

To make matters worse for the Republican establishment, the intensity of opinion among GOP voters who feel contemptuous of the political establishment in Washington suggests that their percentage of voter turnout in this year’s primaries and caucuses will bring the vote for these three candidates even higher than current polling suggests.

To dramatize the magnitude of the ascendance of the anti-establishment wing of the GOP, consider the new Washington Post/ABC News poll released Tuesday. In this survey, support for Trump stands at 38 percent, support for Cruz stands at 15 percent and support for Carson stands at 12 percent. This poll puts the net percentage for these three vehemently anti-establishment Republican candidates at a whopping 65 percent — not to mention the turnout advantage that probably exists for them because of the intensity of opinion of their supporters.

Presidential nominees are chosen at national conventions by delegates, not power brokers or insiders. The fallacy of the “brokered convention” argument is that proponents wrongly believe the “brokers” will be party barons such as Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBudowsky: Pelosi can break shutdown stalemate GOP seeks to change narrative in shutdown fight On The Money: Shutdown Day 32 | Senate to vote on dueling funding measures | GOP looks to change narrative | Dems press Trump on recalled workers | Kudlow predicts economy will 'snap back' after shutdown MORE; the data suggests that the most likely outcome of the nomination campaign will be that a majority of delegates — and GOP voters nationally — will be hostile to the party establishment.

A more likely scenario than a brokered convention is a runaway convention, where the establishment loses control of the convention and the outcome as delegates from the anti-establishment wing take over, threatening first a convention walk-out and then a third-party candidacy if the will of their majority is denied.

The potential nightmare for the GOP establishment is compounded by a second fact, one whose importance is dramatically underestimated by political analysts and the media: The political views of anti-establishment GOP voters and candidates are dramatically out of touch with mainstream America. A runaway convention taken over by anti-establishment delegates would create high odds of a dramatic Election Day victory by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPavlich: Mueller’s indictment of the media Poll shows 36 percent support Trump's reelection, 43 percent prefer generic Democrat How the Clinton machine flooded the FBI with Trump-Russia dirt … until agents bit MORE large enough to return control of the Senate, and potentially the House, to Democrats.

Consider Trump, who is sometimes called “Teflon Don” by pundits who falsely suggest that rules of traditional politics do not apply to him. As with many half-truths, it is the untrue half that becomes destructive, in this case to Republicans. While the real estate mogul may be called “Teflon Don” in GOP primaries, he would become a Velcro death ray that could destroy Republicans in the general election. The very reasons that make Trump popular in the GOP make him likely to lose in a landslide to Clinton, according to polls. Ditto Cruz.

The pressure from GOP leaders will momentarily become excruciating on lagging candidates such as Jeb Bush to withdraw from the race and endorse a center-right candidate such as Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: Lawmakers worry as 'deepfakes' spread | New intel strategy sees threats from emerging tech | Google fined M under EU data rules | WhatsApp moves to curb misinformation Tlaib: 'Right wing media is now targeting my little sister' Airbnb is doing the Democrats' dirty work MORE, who consistently runs slightly ahead of Clinton in polls.

If GOP barons wait too long, they may find themselves helplessly watching a runaway GOP convention that’s been taken over by anti-establishment forces — making their worst nightmares come true on Election Day.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sens. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Contributors blog and reached at