The committee that will write the underlying rules governing the 2016 Republican convention meets in Cleveland beginning on July 12. That’s three weeks from now. Today, a CNN poll (admittedly of only 239 Republicans) found that 48 percent of Republicans want a new nominee to emerge at the convention. And the poll was taken before the announcement that Trump had nearly 40 times fewer dollars at hand than Hillary Clinton does.
With those horrendous fundraising numbers and a Real Clear Politics poll average that has had him mired under 40 percent for 11 straight days now, Donald Trump has set himself on a track that, without a revolutionary change in consciousness on his and the voters’ part, will fulfill the Cassandra-like prophecies his naysayers have been issuing for months. Indeed, Trump ought to hope that 39 percent is his floor because that will at least mean he will end up better nationally than George McGovern did in 1972 and get him into the thrilling neighborhood of Mondale ’84 (40.4 percent).
The effect of a November election with Trump receiving 40ish percent of the vote is easy to game—not only will Hillary win by the biggest margin in three decades, but the Senate will most assuredly go Democratic and (if there are enough candidates for this to be a possibility) the House will flip to the Democrats as well.
A lot can happen in three weeks—a lot that would be bad for him. Trump’s 39 percent floor could be an illusion; he could sink lower. Some statewide polling that has shown him competitive in battleground states could begin to follow the general pattern and start journeying outside the margin of error into Hillary’s favor. The idea that his fundraising is going to improve under such conditions should be greeted with mocking laughter. This is a perfect storm of trouble that won’t go away without some exogenous event to change things—and the one people thought might tragically be of help to him, the Orlando shooting, hasn’t been…
So that 48 percent number—the Republicans who want him gone—could rise well above 50 percent by the time the Rules Committee meets. Its job is to write the rules governing the proceedings at the convention the following week. And a new e-book by two people who were on past rules committees explains how the process can be used to dump Donald Trump. Curly Haugland and Sean Parnell explain in detail “that, historically and necessarily, all delegates to the Republican National Convention have enjoyed the complete freedom to vote their consciences on all matters, including the nomination for president of the United States, with the exception of the 1976 convention,” where a specific rule was written and passed to block Ronald Reagan from seizing Gerald Ford delegates. (That rule was overturned in 1980.)
Efforts have been made to strip that right from delegates in recent years at the state level, but according to Haugland and Parnell, they violate not only Republican traditions but Supreme Court rulings that give national parties the right to organize their own selection processes. In the end, they write, “Delegates to the national convention are not members of a Supreme Soviet in a communist dictatorship, where their job is to ratify other’s decisions and applaud at the appropriate times.” They are representatives of the people, and just as representatives can and must sometimes act in accord with their consciences and against what the polls say, so too must delegates be free in the same way under remarkable circumstances.
Those circumstances may well be upon the delegates to the 2016 convention, who could be in possession of enough data to convince them that at all levels their party is headed for a near-extinction event. They may also have data suggesting that the candidate who only received 44 percent of the aggregate GOP vote in the primaries has done nothing to secure the majority support of Republicans, and has in fact continued to alienate many in his own party while uniting those in his rival party by giving them a common cause: Stopping him.
Under such conditions, denying Trump a victory on the first ballot and throwing the convention open might not only be a wise thing to do; it would be the moral thing to do.