THE MORNING PLUM:
Politico has a remarkable piece this morning that portrays the “Stop Trump” movement as being in total disarray, with some senior Republicans wondering whether it’s time to give up and accept the once-unthinkable nomination of Donald Trump.
The simple summary of Politico’s story — and some of the other reporting out there this morning — is this: The only goal the Stop Trump movement has agreed upon is denying Trump the outright majority of delegates he needs to clinch the nomination. Even if that were to happen, there is no clear consensus on what would come next — at a contested convention, who would the nominee be instead? And in addition to that, some top Republicans are now wondering whether they should give up on even the goal of forcing a contested convention in the first place.
Some Republicans worry that a contested convention could do more damage than not. Per Politico:
While the anti-Trump groups have outlined a state-by-state bid to deprive him of the 1,237 delegates he needs to secure the Republican nomination and to force a contested convention in Cleveland — what would be the GOP’s first since 1976 — there’s growing worry that such an event could be traumatic for the party. Trump has said there could be “riots” if he’s denied the nomination — and while many Republicans, including Kasich, have condemned those remarks as inciting violence, many also fear the consequences if he is right.
“You’re going to push the big red button and blow up the party, at least in the short term,” said Ned Ryun, president of American Majority, a conservative group. “It’s asinine, it really is.”
Trump’s supporters bridled at the notion that he meant to threaten violence when he suggested there would be “riots” if he were denied the nomination, as if he had merely meant this as a disinterested observation of a reality that he has no control over whatsoever. But this shows that for some Republicans, Trump’s oh-so-innocent remark is effectively functioning as a threat.
Meanwhile, who would be the nominee even if Republicans did manage to force a contested convention?
Though Trump remains wildly unpopular with the establishment, many in the party hierarchy now lack a figure to support. While [John] Kasich has a virtually impossible path to the nomination, [Ted] Cruz, who has devoted his Senate career to poking his finger in the establishment’s eye, is seen as an unpalatable choice. One Senate leadership aide said that lawmakers had been trying to reach out to Cruz in recent days, but had been unable to get their phone calls returned or had been rebuffed by Cruz’s top aides. Only two senators — South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and Utah’s Mike Lee — have come forward to endorse Cruz even as Rubio collapsed.
On top of that, Republicans with influence over the party rules are now saying that there’s no scenario in which another non-candidate Republican — Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney, for example — could be given the nomination. That would appear to leave only Kasich (who is a long shot to come in second in delegates) or Cruz (who is almost as unpalatable to many Republicans as Trump, and arguably could be nearly as disastrous — or, who knows, perhaps even more so — in a general election).
To be sure, some conservatives continue to talk about a third party challenger, should Trump either win the nomination outright or prevail after a contested convention. But even Paul Ryan has now suggested that if Trump is the nominee, Republicans will work with him, which would appear to mean figures like Ryan won’t support that third party challenger.
One possible outcome is that, if these logistical realities continue to sink in, and if Trump continues winning, more and more Republicans might come around to accepting Trump as the nominee. And per the Politico story, Republicans have a good excuse at the ready:
One senior GOP operative lamented that with so many of the party’s donors focused on taking down Trump, little had been done to create the infrastructure needed to combat the former secretary of state.
Hillary Clinton, then, functions as a kind of double rationale for getting behind Trump. First, while Trump might be awful, Hillary is a lot more awful. And second, once that’s established, the failure to get behind Trump, and the talk about a contested convention, is preventing Republicans from doing what’s necessary to gear up against her.
Ultimately, given that a Trump nomination may mean untold damage to GOP Senate and Congressional candidates, then the choice is this: Either a possible down-ticket bloodbath (with Trump as the agreed upon nominee), or a split party (via a contested convention or a third party challenge), thus giving GOP down-ticket candidates someone else to support, and their voters a reason to come to the polls. The question would then be how much the latter could do to avert the former.
* NO WHITE KNIGHT AT GOP CONVENTION: Ari Melber reports that many members of the RNC rules committee are ruling out the idea of nominating someone who has not campaigned this year — such as Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney — at a contested convention:
“Ridiculous — not happening,” said one Rules Committee member, asked about the prospect of candidates getting on the ballot who did not run this year. “There’s no way in hell that any of these candidates — who have worked this hard and spent this much money — are going to say, ‘OK, now, for the good of the party, I’ll sit down and let’s bring back Mitt Romney,'” said the insider. “That’s a fantasy world — there’s zero chance of that happening.”
Unless I’m missing something, that would only leave the options of nominating Ted Cruz, or John Kasich, or a unity ticket of the two.
* SANDERS CALLS ON OBAMA TO PULL GARLAND: Last night, Rachel Maddow asked Sanders whether Obama should pull the Merrick Garland nomination if Republicans move to confirm him in the lame duck:
MADDOW: If you get the Democratic nomination and you are elected president in November, would you ask President Obama to withdraw that nomination in a lame duck so you could name your own nominee?
SANDERS: Yes, I would. And I think I’m 100 percent prepared to support Judge Garland. I think he’s clearly very knowledgeable and can serve ably on the Supreme Court. But between you and me, I think there are some more progressive judges out there.
That’s the scenario we outlined here yesterday. It’s unlikely for a lot of reasons (Republicans may not act even in the lame duck; Obama might not want to do it), but it’s not impossible.
* GOP LEADERS SQUASH TALK OF LAME DUCK COURT VOTE: The Hill reports that Republican leaders are ruling out the possibility of any vote on confirming Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court in the lame duck session. But not all Republicans agree:
“If we come to a point where we’ve lost the election and we can get a centrist like Garland in there as opposed to someone like Hillary Clinton might appoint, then I’d go for it,” Sen. Jeff Flake, another member of the Judiciary Committee said….“I would do that. We’d probably get someone worse from Hillary Clinton,” said another Republican senator.
If Hillary wins, the choice for Republicans is: get a potentially more liberal justice; or vote in the lame duck and reveal their argument (that the people should decide by picking the next president) to have been bogus. Looks like it might be the former — though that might change!
* REPUBLICANS CRANK UP CAMPAIGN TO ‘VET’ GARLAND: The Post reports that the Republican oppo research machine is gearing up against Garland:
America Rising Squared, a GOP-aligned opposition research organization, had been working with the Judicial Crisis Network and the Republican National Committee to investigate potential nominees. Brian Rogers, the firm’s executive director, said Wednesday that he now had about a dozen researchers digging into Garland’s background; some will be deployed across the country to vet the judge.
* WHY REPUBLICANS WON’T CONSIDER GARLAND: Adam Liptak has a useful analysis of Garland’s opinions over the years, including this bottom line:
Judge Garland is well to the left of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the member of the court at its ideological center and the one who often holds the controlling vote. A Supreme Court including Judge Garland would contain a five-member liberal bloc and put either him or perhaps Justice Stephen G. Breyer, the most conservative liberal, in what had been Justice Kennedy’s pivotal spot.
And so, you can see why Republicans are rolling the dice: they’re hold off in hopes of getting a GOP president to avoid this big shift, even though this risks allowing Clinton to pick the next justice.
* PODCAST ALERT!!! I chatted with Brian Beutler about the presidential election on his new podcast series, Primary Concerns. Hope you’ll check it out.
* AND GOP ELITES CAN’T ACCEPT WHY TRUMP IS WINNING: Paul Krugman argues today that Trump is succeeding because he is at least acknowledging that orthodox GOP economic ideas about the “makers” and the “takers” aren’t working for a lot of struggling GOP voters:
I’m not suggesting that Donald Trump has any better idea about what the country needs; he’s just peddling another fantasy, this one involving the supposed power of belligerence. But at least he’s acknowledging the real problems ordinary Americans face, not lecturing them on their moral failings. And that’s an important reason he’s winning.
Trump is selling GOP voters a different set of falsehoods, but at least they are new falsehoods.