The sense of dread is palpable. The nearer the Republican Party gets to a contested – in the most literal sense of the word – convention, the more terrible that prospect appears. For the GOP’s elected representatives with careers to lose, the possibility of associating themselves with the chaos anticipated on the floor of the convention, and possibly on the streets of Cleveland, is stomach-turning. Already, a few of the GOP’s more cautious members are signaling their intention to keep their distance from the party’s nominating convention.

When CNN surveyed a handful of prominent Republicans and discovered a few of them were planning on skipping the convention entirely, the name with which they led was former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. “No,” Bush asserted flatly when asked if he would make an appearance in Cleveland. The most striking revelation in that report was not, however, that a vanquished former presidential candidate who had not won a race since 2002 would miss the convention, but that so many elected Republicans with skin in the game in 2016 would also be absent.

“I have my own re-election and I’m going to be focusing on my voters in New Hampshire,” said Senator Kelly Ayotte, who told CNN that it was “unlikely” that she would appear at the convention this summer. “I’m up for re-election,” echoed North Carolina’s Senator Richard Burr. “I’m more valuable outside of Cleveland than inside of Cleveland.”

Even prominent conservative elected representatives are planning on giving the convention a wide berth. “I’ve decided not to go to Cleveland,” said Representative Mick Mulvaney, co-founder of the secretive House Freedom Caucus. “I’m going to stay home and work.”

It’s no secret why these and other Republicans who will be on the ballot this year are keeping their calendars free. Whatever happens in Cleveland – whether there is an orderly process or outright pandemonium – it will not reflect well on either the party or its members.

The Trump campaign has for weeks been laying the groundwork to contend that any process that does not yield to him the Republican presidential nomination is illegitimate. Trump ally Roger Stone has threatened to personally sic the Trump campaign’s more rabid fans on individual delegates who decline to support Trump after the first ballot. “We will disclose the hotels and the room numbers of those delegates who are directly involved in the steal,” he insisted. An unnamed “Trump advisor” reportedly told the New York Times that their candidate’s forces “will burn the place to the ground,” should the process not go their way. All of this betrays that the Trump campaign knows its core supporters are religiously committed, somewhat unstable, and can be incited to violence. With that threat alone, the GOP can be held hostage and made to capitulate to the Trump campaign’s demands.

Even if the Trump campaign were to pull the trigger on this threat, the results of a convention that goes to a second ballot (or more) will be of questionable legitimacy. What’s more, such an eventuality will project to the nation that the Republican Party is not an orderly institution capable of maintaining stability and continuity. The political-activist class might salivate over the idea of radical change born of blood and fire, but the majority of the 120 million or so general election voters will not. They’ll see a vote for the GOP as a risky gamble, and one on which they will not stake their lives, their jobs, their mortgages, and their children’s futures.

For the sensible wing of the Republican Party, this is a depressing conclusion. It is, however, one with which they must come to terms. None other than House Speaker Paul Ryan finds himself tasked with providing counseling to a faction of the Republican Party that lost the argument over the course of the 2016 primary cycle. No, Ryan averred pedagogically; he will not be rescuing the party this time. “Mr. Ryan may have to focus on saving the House majority as the last line of defense against a repeat of 2009-2010 unbridled progressive government,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board opined. True, but his mission will be an even more farsighted and philosophical one, as Jonathan Tobin observed. Not merely is Ryan’s role to protect his members, but to preserve the GOP’s governing agenda when the focus of the party’s voters is on anything but governance.

Ryan will not have the luxury of skipping the nominating convention entirely. As the House Speaker, one of Ryan’s responsibilities is to preside over the fractious gathering as its chairman. “I see this as more of a ceremonial role,” Ryan said. This is almost certainly wishful thinking. For the party’s last vice presidential nominee, one of its most ranking members, and a figure not infrequently cast in the role of savior, Cleveland will be a proving ground for Ryan. One of his chores will be to ensure this divisive process does not tear the party in two before it can choose a new leader. Surely, like so many of his colleagues, the Speaker would rather not risk association with what will be a messy process that could have a lasting impact on the party’s political prospects. Ryan may not emerge from the convention the GOP’s presidential nominee, but he will have a more important role: ensuring that the gathering does not irreparably damage the image of the party he temporarily leads.

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