Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The Second Coming
W.B. Yeats (1919)
It may be overly dramatic to invoke Yeats in looking ahead to the Republican convention. Then again, perhaps not. Politicians have spoken, and pundits have written, in apocalyptic terms about the outcome of the proceedings in Cleveland. If Donald Trump is nominated, will it change the Republican party forever and for the worse: creating a party of nativism, protectionism, isolationism, closeted—or not so closeted—racism, and a political rhetoric sprinkled with vulgarities and misogynisms?
On the other hand, others ask what would happen if the convention should nominate someone other than the candidate with the most (or even the second-most) delegates based on the primaries. Jeff Greenfield, writing in Politico, put the question in terms of a contest between voters and delegates. And he questioned the theory that nominating someone lacking proven support from primary voters could save the Republican Party:
The greater likelihood is that it will blow the party up, triggering everything from brawls over rules and credentials, to post-convention efforts to launch a third party or write in campaign, to guerrilla wars at the state and local level, with primaries and party purges threatening anyone who embraced the “party will decide!” philosophy.
It is possible that Greenfield is right, although we think he conflates primary voters with all voters. Primary voters, he argues, will object to the loss of “democracy” provided by the primaries:
Now that ordinary Republican voters, like Democrats, have experienced decades of real democracy, what will their reaction be if it’s taken away from them? The polls tell us that Republican voters want no part of such a process. Even in Wisconsin, where GOP voters decisively rejected Trump, exit polls indicated that most Republicans want the nominee to be the one with the plurality of votes.
Yet those Wisconsin voters leaving the primary polls represented less than half the eligible voters. And in other states, where Trump has won, he has been carried to victory by a minority of voters in a minority party. That limited accomplishment hardly guarantees winning a general election. Finally, the form of democracy offered by primaries has always been indirect and limited since is is exercised through delegates generally empowered to exercise their own discretion after the first or second ballot.
In the end, Greenfield acknowledged the alternate view of the role of a convention advocated by the Wall Street Journal and others:
If the purpose is to deliberate, to resolve what voters have left unresolved, and to weigh as party members who would be the most effective advocate for the party as an institution, then the idea of bringing someone from off the bench seems a lot less heretical.
Just who might be “brought off the bench,” however, remains a difficult, even vexing, question. John Kasich is the most obvious choice and he would argue that, despite his distance from even a plurality, he is already off the bench. To be credible, however, that argument needs to be bolstered by a significantly improved performance by Kasich in the remaining primaries. Paul Ryan’s name had been mentioned with increasing frequency, but Ryan has now again made it explicitly clear that he would not accept that role. Other names have included Condi Rice, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and General James Mattis (See, The Daily Beast, “The Secret Movement to Draft General James Mattis for President.”)
Taking the broader vision of a convention’s responsibility, David Brooks proffered a characteristically more optimistic, but probably fanciful, approach. He urged the formation of a Lincoln Caucus at the convention. The Caucus would not be explicitly anti-Trump or anti-Cruz and indeed would consider requests for support from either. But Brooks’s clear implication was that the emphasis would be in supporting “some as yet unknown candidate” consistent with the mission of the Lincoln Caucus:
[To] remind the country that there still are Republicans who believe in prudent globalism, reform conservative ideas to lift up the working class. There are still Republicans who believe in certain standards of polite behavior in public and pragmatic compromise.
But again the question remains as to who that yet unknown candidate might be. While we are entirely sympathetic to Brooks’s aim, we find it difficult to imagine the convention nominating someone who has not previously been identified and indicated his or her availability. Unless and until that should happen we are again left with Yeats to wait and wonder:
What rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Cleveland to be born?