There are two alternate strategies right now to topple Donald Trump, salvage the Party of Lincoln from being sabotaged by a big-government narcissistic demagogue, and save the post-William F. Buckley, Jr. conservative movement from needing to find a new partisan home.
The first possible strategy is to rally immediately—and by “immediately,” I mean before March 15—around an anti-Trump challenger. If that consolidation is to happen, at this juncture, it simply must be Ted Cruz. He emerged from Super Tuesday with a substantial delegate lead over Marco Rubio, has now won four contests to Rubio’s one, and has outperformed Trump in five of the fifteen contests thus far. Cruz over-performed on Tuesday relative to the projections in RealClearPolitics averages in most states, and should outperform Rubio in this Saturday’s contests. Rubio has now failed to topple Trump in any of three states in which he had across-the-board, full-on elected official/establishment support: South Carolina, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. Cruz supporters’ second choices split much more evenly among Trump and Rubio than do Rubio supporters’ second choices split among Trump and Cruz. Cruz had substantially more cash on hand than Rubio as of the end of January, just today announced a huge February fundraising haul, and has generally been a more prolific fundraiser all cycle.
Team Rubio is already talking about the calendar, and how Rubio will inevitably begin to notch wins and emerge as the anti-Trump consensus choice. But, while Cruz thoroughly dominated in his home state of Texas, most present polling shows Rubio trailing substantially in Florida. Delaying the inevitable, at this exigent juncture, would be potentially fatal to the cause. Waiting until March 15 means waiting too long.
The case for a unity ticket, then, as Erick argues, is strong: personally, I would like to see Cruz go on national television, today or tomorrow, and offer the Vice President spot to Rubio.
The alternative strategy is what Team Rubio (and Team Kasich) are now all but explicitly arguing for: the contested convention strategy. The goal here is to keep the field as splintered as possible, to prevent Trump from winning at the convention on the first ballot and to beat him on a subsequent ballot. And, make no mistake about it, the chances of consolidating and winning a one-on-one battle with Trump following March 15—say, in a world in which Kasich drops out after losing Ohio and Rubio drops out after losing Florida—presents absolutely brutal delegate math problems, so both Kasich and Rubio staying in until March 15 really does represent a commitment to pursuing a contested convention.
Above all other concerns, though, there is one screamingly obvious problem with the contested convention strategy. If Donald Trump—a mercurial and transparently insecure crybaby with the petulant demeanor of a kindergartener denied his lollipop—is toppled in a floor fight at the convention, he must be considered a very serious high-risk defector to run third-party. Trump has openly been talking about his much-ballyhooed “pledge” to support the eventual GOP nominee in a mocking way, repeatedly tweeting things that read, with barely any between-the-lines discernment needed, “Hey, Reince Priebus, nice ‘pledge’ you have there—wouldn’t it be a shame if something happened to it?” For example:
The Republican Establishment has been pushing for lightweight Senator Marco Rubio to say anything to "hit" Trump.I signed the pledge-careful
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 28, 2016
The delegate math in this fractured field alternative strategy land, moreover, is such that Trump would almost certainly enter a contested convention with a delegate plurality. That he would hold this plurality can only be expected to exacerbate the situation and further incentivize his possible third-party run.
While modern “sore loser” law dealing with presidential primary losers running as independents in the general election is murky and somewhat unsettled, there is precedent for this: John B. Anderson ran in two-thirds of the Republican presidential primary contests in 1980, only to eventually declare as an independent candidate. He managed to make it onto all 50 state ballots, plus D.C. While 45 states now have “sore loser” laws on the books, the default rule is that they do not apply to presidential candidates—of the 45 states, only Texas and South Dakota apply them to presidential candidates. Arizona, Delaware, New York, Oklahoma, and West Virginia do not even have “sore loser” laws on the books. And even if the various states’ secretary of state offices do instead deem that “sore loser” laws preclude Trump’s formal third-party independent bid, he could fairly easily mount a substantial write-in campaign. In California, for example, all you need is to have 55 (the number of votes California gets in the Electoral College) constitutionally eligible Presidential Electors properly file with the California Secretary of State’s office. This election season has proven nothing if not Trump’s marketing evil genius, and he should be considered uniquely well-suited to mount a serious national write-in challenge. “Trump,” after all, is a name on almost the same level as “Jordan,” from a global name-recognition perspective.
So that is where we stand today. Consolidating behind Ted Cruz immediately—#CruzOrLose, as I like to refer to this—is hardly a guarantee to stop Trump before a contested convention. But there is no middle ground, at all, between this strategy and the contested convention strategy. I humbly submit that #CruzOrLose is the better option.
Rubio and Kasich each hold unilateral vetoes; their choosing to stay in until March 15 commits the party to pursuing a contested convention strategy, barring some unforeseen delegate math miracle. By staying in until March 15, they are leaving the ultimate fate of the Party of Lincoln to a contested floor fight at the convention with a lifelong Democrat and Clinton Foundation crony, and greatly risk the fraudster’s defection to a third-party challenge.
Like the Republican Party in 1912, which nominated William Howard Taft and forced rule of law-disdaining “unconstrained majoritarian” Theodore Roosevelt to run third-party—thus purposefully sacrificing the general election to Woodrow Wilson in order to keep the GOP’s long-term commitment to constitutional fidelity—reasonable enough people might deem this Trump third-party run the best possible outcome at this stage. I choose to be much more optimistic.
But such optimism requires an immediate coalescing around Ted Cruz.