There are no more Republican primaries in the month of March, and the calendar is more spread out from this point onward, but according to recent polls, Donald Trump is the heavy favorite to win, whether or not he receives the required number of delegates. Two polls released Wednesday cast doubt over whether Ted Cruz can defeat Trump, and whether any non-Trump candidate can bring Republican voters together after a contested convention.
A Quinnipiac poll released on Wednesday suggests that even if John Kasich dropped out of the race, it would not benefit Ted Cruz, whom a great many “establishment” figures have recently endorsed as the best anti-Trump candidate. Among the 16 percent of Republican or Republican-leaning voters who chose Kasich as their first choice, Trump beat Cruz (46 percent to 37 percent) as their second choice.
Trump currently leads in the race, with 739 delegates, while Cruz stands at second place with 465 delegates. Kasich only has 143 delegates, which is still less than Marco Rubio had when he dropped out of the race on March 15. It is numerically impossible for Kasich to win the nomination before the convention, while it is highly unlikely but still possible for Cruz to do so. Even Trump faces an uphill battle. FiveThirtyEight projected Trump’s path forward, and estimated he will get only 1,208 delegates, just short of the 1,237 needed to win outright.
If no candidate picks up 1,237 or more delegates by the time of the last primaries on June 7, a contested convention becomes likely. There are enough unpledged delegates that, if Trump were to come close (say, upwards of 1,100 delegates), he could win outright by convincing those on the fence to support his candidacy. Recent polls show that GOP voters distrust a contested convention — largely because most of them don’t know what it is and have never experienced it before.
The last contested convention was in 1976, when Ronald Reagan challenged sitting President Gerald Ford. Both went into the convention without the majority of delegates, but Ford picked up enough unpledged delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot.
According to a YouGov/Huffington Post poll released Wednesday, a full 52 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters would prefer Trump to win the nomination at the convention, even if no candidate has the majority of delegates going into the convention. Twenty-eight percent favor Cruz, even if Trump had a majority of delegates, and 11 percent favor Kasich. Only 4 percent prefer that someone who is not running would be chosen as the nominee.
In that same poll, 55 percent said they would feel upset if “somebody else besides Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or John Kasich were chosen as the nominee at the Republican convention.” A full 62 percent said they would feel either “enthusiastic” or “satisfied but not enthusiastic” if Trump were chosen as the nominee, while 52 percent said the same if Cruz were chosen. Even Trump’s selection would upset 22 percent, however (Cruz would upset 25 percent). Sixty-one percent said they would be “upset” or “dissatisfied but not upset” if Kasich got the nomination.
This confirms my suspicions that, even in the case of a contested convention, it would be politically foolish for Republican elites to push any candidate besides Trump or Cruz. If even Kasich, another candidate actually in the race albeit far behind, would dissatisfy or upset 61 percent of Republican voters, the talk of Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan as a savior “establishment” nominee seems increasingly divorced from reality.
Next Page: What Even Is a “Contested Convention,” and Is It Different from a “Brokered Convention” or an “Open Convention?”
There is one saving grace for the “establishment” in these numbers, however. Respondents acknowledged they did not fully understand “what a ‘contested convention’ or a ‘brokered convention’ means in politics.” Only 18 percent said they understood these terms “very well,” while 42 percent acknowledged they understood “not very well” or “not well at all.” 17 percent said they were “not sure.”
This may not come as a surprise. Phrased in this way, the question almost seems to present a “contested convention” and a “brokered convention” as two separate things, while both terms are loosely used to refer to what may also be called an “open convention.” Essentially, each refers to a situation where no candidate has the majority of delegates by the time the convention starts. In this way, the convention is “open” to choosing any candidate, because no candidate is guaranteed a win.
Ted Cruz presented the strongest difference between a “contested” and a “brokered” convention, if indeed there is a difference at all. He argued that a “brokered” convention is one in which party elites agree to back one candidate over another (as in the case of “establishment” delegates coalescing behind a candidate voters had not chosen), while a “contested” convention is one in which candidates (whom voters have chosen, in this case Trump and Cruz) fight it out for the nomination on the convention floor. Contrary to Cruz, it could be argued that a convention is “open” beforehand, “contested” while delegates come to their decisions, and “brokered” once a nominee has been agreed upon.
In any case, voters on the ground are suspicious that a convention would disenfranchise them, discounting their preferences as unworthy of consideration and foisting a candidate they did not elect to the party’s standard. In a year when voters have so thoroughly rejected the “establishment,” it would not be advisable for Republican elites to back a candidate besides Trump or Cruz. With Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, and Lindsey Graham supporting Cruz, it seems most of them have come to this realization.