Business tycoon Donald Trump is all but certain to be the Republican nominee for president, despite an unparalleled bid by the party’s leaders to stop him short at a contested GOP convention this summer in Cleveland.
The leaders still want to keep him from collecting the 1,237 delegates he needs to win the nomination outright. But many of them are privately resigned to failure, in part because their stop-Trump efforts started too late.
Even if he’s short when voting in primaries ends on June 7, he’ll likely be close enough to be able to make a deal to wrap up the contest before the convention begins on July 18. One tried-and-true path: selecting a former foe as his running mate in return for that person’s delegates. Among others, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida comes to mind, despite their mutual disdain when Rubio was a candidate.
But Trump’s candidacy seems certain to hurt the GOP this fall, likely handing a big win to Hillary Clinton, who will be the Democratic nominee despite a stronger-than-expected challenge from Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. She had a mediocre spring, but divided Republicans dug themselves an even deeper hole than she did.
Trump has alienated women, Hispanics and well-educated independents — groups that Republicans have to tap into to overcome the Democrats’ voter registration advantage. He’ll no doubt moderate some of his views during the fall campaign — nominees from both parties always do — but he’ll be hard-pressed to walk back strident positions he took to appeal to the GOP’s base during the primaries.
One certainty about a Trump nomination: Some Republicans who didn’t support him in the primary campaign and say they won’t vote for him in the fall will stay home on Nov. 8. The size of this “never Trump” movement is difficult to gauge, but anecdotal evidence and polling data suggest it will be significant.
Trump will bring new, anti-Washington voters to the polls, though not enough of them to offset the negatives, setting the table for what some Republican leaders fear will be a defeat of epic proportions.
It’s not just the presidency that keeps the GOP bosses awake at night. Control of the Senate will be up for grabs, too. With Clinton in the White House, Democrats need to win four Republican-held seats to take back the Senate. Democrats already have an edge because they have far fewer seats to defend than Republicans do this time around. And a handful of those GOP seats are in states that regularly vote for Democrats in presidential years, when voter turnout is higher.
Factor in what is likely to be lower-than-usual support from women and minorities, especially Hispanics turned off by Trump’s talk about building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, and a Senate switch seems within easy reach for the Democrats.
If Democrats control both the Senate and the White House, a liberal-leaning Supreme Court is sure to follow. (In that case, GOP senators might cast lame-duck votes for President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, who is closer to the political center than anyone Clinton is likely to nominate if the Senate is on her side.)
The stakes are high, but Republican leaders’ hands are pretty much tied at this point. A move to oust Trump in favor of Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas could backfire in a big way, prompting many Trump supporters to either sit out the election or back him as a third-party candidate. Some analysts suggest that would lead to an even bigger defeat than the party would face with Trump.
A Trump win is not quite chiseled in stone. But absent stunning news, the Republican establishment will be stuck with him — and the fallout.
Senior Associate Editor Richard Sammon contributed to this report.
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