Whenever I hear Republicans wax on about the possibility of nominating someone other than Donald Trump or Ted Cruz—talking up John Kasich, Paul Ryan, Scott Walker, Mitt Romney, or some other less polarizing figure—it makes me wonder: Exactly how would that happen?
We all have memorized two numbers. The first is 1,237, the number of delegates needed to win a majority at the GOP convention. The second is 40, as in Rule 40, requiring that a candidate win primaries or caucuses in eight states to have his name placed in nomination. (It was added to the party rules in 2012, pushed by allies of Mitt Romney to stifle Ron Paul.)
Yes, the convention rules committee could theoretically amend Rule 40, but then the change would have to be approved by a majority vote of the delegates. Ask yourself, exactly which delegates would vote to rescind the rule? Trump and Cruz are likely to have more than 80 percent of the delegates locked up, so which one will encourage his delegates to support this change? Short answer: neither. It would be against their interests, and it ain’t gonna happen. Like it or not, this thing is coming down to either Trump or Cruz, and people ought to stop fantasizing about other options.
Right now, the question is whether there is enough time and sufficient delegates left to stop Trump from getting to 1,237. There are two possible answers: either that it’s too late, or that it’s almost too late but not quite. Cruz’s impressive win in Wisconsin is just what the “stop Trump” forces were hoping for, but is it enough, given the states coming up? It surely feels as if the ground has shifted, that the dynamics have changed from helping to hurting Trump, but even so the previous question remains determinative. Is it too late to stop him?
The gnashing of teeth among establishment Republicans is now almost deafening. They look at Trump and see a candidate who will almost surely lose the general election. The Realclearpolitics.com average of major national polls has Trump trailing likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by 11 points. Cruz runs much closer, three points behind the former secretary of State, and Kasich actually leads her by six points. Trump is known and defined—and widely considered toxic, not only to Democrats and large numbers of independents, but also to many Republicans.
If Trump somehow won, he wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to govern. Beyond having no discernible ideology, relying instead on a philosophy centered around “I think I am the smartest guy around and I can solve any problem, trust me,” his ignorance on issues appears to be even worse than his worst critics feared. After his howlers in recent New York Times and Washington Post interviews and editorial-board meetings, Trump would do well to steer clear of detailed discussions with journalists, with the possible exception of the staff of Weekly Reader. Trump seems disinclined to recruit`experts or do any homework on policy. I asked a recently retired four-star general if he had ever heard of any of the foreign policy advisers that Trump named a couple of weeks ago. He hadn’t. Wow, that was reassuring.
Then there is Cruz. When elected to the Senate, he immediately set out to alienate as many of his Republican colleagues as possible. He was wonderfully successful in this endeavor. Many Republicans saw his determination to shut down the government as a conspicuously futile gesture that would potentially jeopardize their reelections. They think Cruz is willing to do anything to burnish his reputation as an outsider willing to take on Washington insiders. Oddly enough, in this antiestablishment year, his self-regarding ambition may actually come in handy.
There is no doubting Cruz’s brilliance, and it isn’t hard to understand how he was a championship debater at Princeton. The Texan has put together the most impressive and sophisticated Republican presidential campaign in history, and aside from not anticipating the rise of Trump and Ben Carson (but who did?), he privately outlined to people last year a strategy to win the nomination that was right on target. Like him or not, it was clear early on that Cruz would be a very formidable candidate.
Longtime politicians are used to supporting people they don’t like, but rarely do they find themselves lining up behind someone they despise. The Republican mandarins now face a dilemma. They fear that Trump can’t win, and that Cruz might. Many congressional Republicans wonder whether Cruz is a right-wing nut or a ruthless opportunist, and then ask themselves, “Which is worse?”
Personally, I think Cruz is more of an opportunist, and a pretty ruthless one at that. He ran against the establishment to win his Senate seat. Then, ensconced in the Washington establishment, he ran against it again in his bid for the presidential nomination. Along the way, he alienated people he now needs to rally behind him.
Establishment Republicans can avert their eyes and keep dreaming that a white knight is going to ride in to save them. But in truth, the time has come for them to pick their poison: Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.