For Marco Rubio and much of the GOP establishment, the goal no longer is to win the Republican nomination. The goal now is to make sure Donald Trump doesn’t win the nomination —even if it means a bitterly contested convention fight that could rip apart the Republican Party.
Officially, Rubio insists he will defeat Trump in Florida on March 15 and then continue marching toward the nomination. But the Florida senator’s campaign is also quietly telling party leaders that even if Rubio loses his home state a week from Tuesday, he will press forward on a mission to keep Trump from winning the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.
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“He would be a disaster for America. He would split our party in half,” Rubio told reporters on Super Tuesday. “Donald Trump will never have 1,237 delegates and I’m going to campaign as long as it takes. Beyond Florida, I’m going to campaign as long as it takes to ensure that our party does not fall into the control of a con artist.”
Panic in the Republican establishment over the growing likelihood that Trump will win the Republican nomination is leading some party leaders, political operatives and activists to start actively preparing for the primary to blow up in a contested national convention in July.
“I strongly believe the establishment will do everything within their power to block Donald Trump from getting the nomination, even if he gets the required number of delegates,” said Republican consultant John Patrick Yob, former political director for the presidential campaigns of Rand Paul and John McCain. In 2012, he ran Rick Santorum’s convention delegate operations.
I strongly believe the establishment will do everything within their power to block Donald Trump from getting the nomination, even if he gets the required number of delegates.
Republican consultant John Patrick Yob
“The convention in Cleveland will be total chaos, and there’s a role reversal where the outsiders are taking over,” Yob said. “The establishment isn’t going to tolerate that and there is going to be an all-out war.”
So far Trump leads with 316 delegates, Ted Cruz has 226 and Rubio has 106. John Kasich has 25 and Ben Carson eight, according to the running tally by the Associated Press. But Super Tuesday marked the start of a more frenetic primary period where more states vote and more delegates are rewarded. Starting March 15, states can award their delegates winner-take-all, which means that day someone will win all of Florida’s 99 delegates and all of Ohio’s 66.
One avenue of attack to derail Trump, Yob argued, is in the selection of delegates to the national convention in Cleveland.
Delegates from various states might be obligated to vote for the winner of that state’s primary on the first ballot, for instance, but then would be free to vote for whoever they want on the second and third. Anti-Trump forces may try to stack state delegation with Trump “SINO’s” — supporters in name only — who would end up rejecting Trump, Yob said.
Florida’s delegates mostly will be picked by local and state Republican Party leaders in April, and under state party rules those delegates are bound to support the Florida primary winner for at least three rounds of balloting. How much leeway there might be for altering those rules is a matter of debate.
1,237 Delegates needed to clinch the GOP nomination
“Depending on how many delegates end up there and how they’re aligned it’s going to be tough to come up with a consensus to alter those rules. That’s a high bar,” said Josh Putnam, political science lecturer at the University of Georgia, who closely monitors the primary nomination process on his Frontloading HQ blog.
He sees Trump as likely to lock up the nomination by the end of April anyway.
“If things continue on the course they are, it’s hard to see how he doesn’t,” said Putnam.
But many Republicans argue that stopping Trump has to be the No. 1 priority, even if it means tearing the GOP asunder.
“I will fight Donald Trump and what he stands for to the convention, beyond the convention to November and beyond that, should he be elected until he and his so-called movement — which is based on anger, envy and ignorance — is cast into outer darkness,” said veteran Republican strategist J.M. “Mac” Stipanovich, who said a contested convention would be worth it to stop Trump.
“It may (tear) the party in two, but if that’s what’s required, so be it. His entire campaign has been one long dog whistle to bigots of various varieties,” Stipanovich said.
I will fight Donald Trump and what he stands for to the convention, beyond the convention to November and beyond that, should he be elected until he and his so-called movement — which is based on anger, envy and ignorance — is cast into outer darkness.
Veteran Republican strategist J.M. “Mac” Stipanovich
Adam Goodman, a Republican media consultant in Tampa, warns that “the party would never recover from a convention where the frontrunner was denied the nomination — especially when the base of that frontrunner is so passionate and committed.”
“And the question is how close is close enough?” he said. “It takes 1,237 delegates, but what if Trump is at 1,000 — 237 short. They’re going to deny him? When he’s clearly the frontrunner, they’re going to gang up and deny him?”
Most years, talk of a contested or brokered convention amounts to little more than far-fetched musing by pundits and political junkies. This year’s presidential race, however, has already proved that nothing is too far-fetched.
Former Florida House Majority Leader Adam Hasner of Palm Beach County, a co-chairman of Rubio’s Florida campaign, said Rubio will win here. He dismissed talk that Rubio would have to drop out if he lost. He also declined to rule out a contested convention.
“Anybody who says, 'Well this is what happened in the past,’ throw all that out because there are no ground rules for this, there is no precedent for this,” Hasner said. “We’re in a totally new paradigm.”
Contact Adam Smith at email@example.com. Follow @AdamSmithTimes