John Kasich’s defeat of Donald Trump in the Ohio primary was a necessary—but very far from sufficient — condition for his winning the Republican nomination. Even with the addition of Ohio’s 66 delegates, and the exit of Marco Rubio, Kasich remains a rather distant last in what is now a three-man race. He has no chance of winning a majority of delegates before the convention in July, and his hopes rest on a contested, or “brokered” (though there are no real brokers) convention. An optimistic view was expressed in a Kasich campaign memo Tuesday night: “With the electoral map shifting significantly in our favor, Governor Kasich is positioned to accumulate a large share of the almost 1,000 remaining delegates and enter Cleveland in strong position to become the nominee.”
The validity of that assessment, will depend, of course, on the performance of not only Kasich but Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in the next few months. It is certainly possible, as numerous observers have noted, that Trump may amass the required majority of 1,237 delegates prior to the convention, making it an event as academic as it would be depressing. If he does not reach that point, however, the convention may play a crucial part in the selection process. Two days prior to the Tuesday primaries, Ross Douthat argued that:
[T]he party’s convention rules, in all their anachronistic, undemocratic and highly-negotiable intricacy, are also a line of defense, also a hurdle, also a place where a man unfit for office can be turned aside.
So in Cleveland this summer, the men and women of the Republican Party may face a straightforward choice: Betray the large minority of Republicans who cast their votes for Trump, or betray their obligations to their country.
For a party proud of its patriotism, the choice should not be hard.
Douthat’s argument was echoed in The Wall Street Journal which similarly stressed the importance of the convention:
As for the prospect of an open convention, Republicans will know a lot more in July than they do now…. The goal of party primaries and conventions is to nominate the candidate with the best chance to win in November and then govern the country. If it takes an open convention, so be it.
(For readers who wish to plunge into the weeds of how contested conventions work, we recommend an analysis in BloombergPolitics, “How To Steal a Nomination From Donald Trump.” )
Neither Douthat nor the Journal addressed what Republicans should do if Donald Trump is nominated at the convention. We, however, addressed that squarely in a letter that the Times published on March 15:
Ross Douthat’s column is one of his best, but it does not go quite far enough. If efforts to stop Donald Trump at the convention are unsuccessful, they must not end there. Republican opposition to Mr. Trump must continue by organizing a third party that can recreate a Republican Party true to its traditional heritage. That would be a daunting task and one that might ensure the election of Hillary Clinton. It is, however, a responsibility that cannot be avoided if the party is to retain what honor it still claims.
While Rubio has departed from the race, Kasich’s victory in Ohio has made the possibility of a contested convention a reality. Such a convention, however, would be far from a guarantee that an acceptable nominee will emerge. As we have made clear, we believe that neither Donald Trump nor Ted Cruz meet that standard. Hence, our reference to Kasich as Horatius at the Bridge. (Readers may recall that Horatius was a Roman officer who single-highhandedly defended a bridge against an army of Etruscans. For those who wish to refresh (and possibly expand) their recollection, an interesting account of the legend, and its celebration in a famous poem by Lord Macaulay, is provided by the often useful Wikipedia.)
A Wall Street Journal editorial commenting on Tuesday’s primaries was titled “Kasich Into the Breach.” It offered congratulations to Kasich and suggested that his victory might extend the contest to the convention floor. It also noted succinctly Kasich’s advantage over Cruz in coming primaries:
One reason for Mr. Kasich to stay in the race is that Mr. Cruz has been telling non-conservatives he doesn’t want their vote for so long that many Republicans take him at his word. Mr. Kasich will pose a stronger challenge to Mr. Trump among moderates and pragmatic conservatives.
While Kasich has our support, we believe that if he is to be more than a speed bump for Donald Trump, he must raise his game considerably. As we have previously noted, he has been too inclined to rely largely on his resume and, impressive though his past accomplishments are, they cannot continue to be the centerpiece of his campaign. As the Journal counseled:
His economic record is a strength he should stress, taking on Mr. Trump more forcefully on policies. The New Yorker will now train his insults on Mr. Kasich the way he has everyone else in the race, and the Governor will have to show the determination to shake up Washington that voters want this year. One way to do that is to start making a more systematic, forceful case against President Obama’s record and Hillary Clinton’s policies and how he would upend the status quo.
Inasmuch as Kasich’s prospects are uncertain at best, mainstream Republicans should not simply put off, and refuse to contemplate, the possible need for a third party candidacy to rescue the party from Donald Trump (or, for that matter, Ted Cruz). They should take note that their right-wing counterparts are already meeting to discuss such a candidacy. Politico reported earlier this week that “Three influential leaders of the conservative movement have summoned other top conservatives for a closed-door meeting Thursday in Washington, D.C. to talk about how to stop Donald Trump and, should he become the Republican nominee, how to run a third-party “true conservative” challenger in the fall.”
Mainstream Republicans–including “moderates” and “centrists”–should not allow activism and planning ahead to be the exclusive province of those who seek a “true conservative.” We sometimes think that the problem with moderates is that they are, well, too damn moderate. Donald Trump has demonstrated, if nothing else, the energizing power of anger in a political movement. It is past time for mainstream Republicans to become angry at the hijacking of our party and to act appropriately. That action might well take the form of a third-party candidacy of a “true Republican.”
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