Richard Elliott, UMBC:
This year, an extraordinarily rare moment in American politics may be actualized: a brokered convention. A brokered convention is a situation in which no single candidate has secured a majority of delegates. The last election cycle with a truly open convention was the 1920 Republican National Convention. In that convention, there were twelve candidates who received ballots in the first round of voting. Both sides reviled their rival candidates and, after 10 rounds of balloting, Senator Warren Harding was chosen as the compromise candidate. 5 candidates started the balloting process with more candidates than Harding, but he won because his opposition did not coalesce behind any other strong candidates.
With Donald Trump’s current 740 delegate count, he is the only Republican candidate with a path to the nomination; neither Cruz nor Kasich can possibly win. However, the GOP has realized the horrible monster that has been unleashed upon their base. Trump fit the xenophobic and poorly educated base like a glove and has exposed the repressed, if not blatant, racism of many Americans. In doing this, he has posed a threat to the Republican Party, a much bigger threat than even their most liberal enemies. Trump’s bombastic and awful campaign is a threat to conservatism, according to some right-wing sources. While Cruz may lose the election and give another four years to Democrats, Trump may fracture the Republican Party entirely as he seriously discusses a third party run. If Trump gets the nomination, other mainstream Republicans such as former Texas governor Rick Perry, former Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn, and retired general James Mattis could also launch their own third party run.
However, some Republican insiders are working against Trump. Mitt Romney gave a speech denouncing Trump, claiming that “his promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University”. Lindsey Graham has said the difference between Cruz and Trump is “one is a poison, the other is a shot to the head”. There is even a group of Republicans officials who have said they would not support or even vote for Trump in a general election. Trump’s poll ratings have dropped and he is not certain to win the nomination unless he gets to 1,237 delegates before the convention. Cruz and Kasich are also integral parts of the machinery to hold Trump back. 9 of the remaining states have winner-take-all systems, while 3 have winner-take-most systems. Holding Trump back in those states will make it very difficult for the frontrunner to win the nomination prior to the convention.
The next big question: who would be the eventual winner? John Boehner has already gone so far as to endorse his follow up as Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, for President. A recent CNBC article outlined why they believe that Paul Ryan is the most likely nominee in an open convention scenario: two ideologically different frontrunners (Trump and Cruz), irreconcilable camps of supporters, and a compromise candidate. Paul Ryan has already proven himself as a compromise candidate for the Speaker of the House position, which he initially did not want. Again, he is saying that he does not want to be in the discussion for presidential candidates, but he could be drafted yet again to save the party.
Regardless of the outcome, an open convention in 2016 on the Republican side could make or break the Republican Party. If Trump gets the nomination, mainstream conservatives will bolt for a third party. If anyone besides Trump gets the nomination, Trump’s followers would gladly support his presumed third-party venture. This will have enormous consequences for American politics for decades to come. Whether 2016 goes down as the year that the Republican Party died, that Trump took over the Republican Party, or that our country made a sharp turn leftward is still in the cards, and I am awaiting the final outcome with bated breath.