There are three plausible outcomes awaiting the Republican Party at its July convention in Cleveland. Each scenario offers a unique, unhappy-family style of misery to its members.
This still seems to me the most likely outcome.
The American system of elections is not immutable. It has changed considerably over the years.
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However, one theme runs consistently through American history: The candidate with the most votes wins, just as in sports, where the team with the most points wins.
Trump will almost certainly have the most points heading to Cleveland. It may be well and proper, under party rules, to deny him the nomination. It will also be widely considered – by his supporters, above all – as undemocratic, un-American and crooked. As political conventions go, this one would be a doozy.
One scenario might mitigate much of the negative fallout of bypassing Trump. If Trump continues his erratic ways, his campaign maintains its apparent dysfunction and Cruz edges closer to Trump in total delegates, he might have a viable claim to overtake Trump at the convention.
Cruz is a smart politician with an effective organization. He also possesses, or at least pretends to, some of the anarchic qualities that make Trump so appealing to voters who have given up on conventional politics. His voters may hate slightly different things than Trump voters hate, but Cruz could prove skillful enough to build a bridge of loathing between them.
Establishment fantasy scenario
This is the outcome that many Republicans in Washington, D.C., who fear Trump and detest Cruz, seem to dream about. In this case, Trump and Cruz go into the national convention having won the vast majority of delegates between them.
Under the fantasy scenario, in an outcome that will be described as “backroom” and “coup” and “treason,” the establishment engineers a nomination for someone such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, who didn’t compete in the primaries, or, even more unlikely, the Ohio governor who competed – and lost.
There is much consternation among Republican leaders that a Trump nomination would break the party. But the outcome most likely to break the party is the one in which Republican elites crown one of their own. Such a candidate would be perceived as illegitimate – not by every Republican but by enough Trump and Cruz voters to court disaster.
The party can survive and lose with Trump. It can survive and possibly win with Cruz, who is wily enough to do better in a general election than many suspect. It’s not clear that the GOP can survive a Ryan or a Kasich as its nominee. That just might provide the death blow that party leaders fear.