This story in Politico about Trump delegates willing to bolt the candidate on the second ballot of a contested convention will be dismissed by many Trump partisans as anti-Trump propaganda.
Indeed, it may be. But if we’ve seen any weakness from Trump in the past two weeks, it is the lack of political acumen from his team when it comes to the real nuts and bolts of politics: choosing delegates who are rock solid supporters. The controversies in Louisiana, South Carolina, and North Dakota are just the tip of the iceberg. The fact is, Trump may be winning more votes than Cruz at the ballot box, but the incompetence of his campaign aides in turning those votes into loyal delegates is painfully obvious.
If Trump heads into the convention without the magic number of 1,237, already more than a hundred delegates are poised to break with him on a second ballot, according to interviews with dozens of delegates, delegate candidates, operatives and party leaders.
In one of the starkest examples of Trump’s lack of support, out of the 168 Republican National Committee members — each of whom doubles as a convention delegate — only one publicly supports Trump, and she knows of only a handful of others who support him privately.
Meanwhile, Ted Cruz has been whipping Trump in the quiet, early race to elect his own loyalists to become delegates to the convention, meaning that the Texas senator could triumph through delegates who are freed to vote their own preferences on a second ballot, regardless of who won their state.
“As far as the stealing of the Trump nomination, that’s a big concern for everybody,” said Diana Orrock, the RNC committeewoman from Nevada and the only one of 112 committeemen and women who openly supports Trump. None of the nation’s 56 state and territory GOP chairmen, also convention delegates, have endorsed Trump either. They are subjected to a mix of state-based rules as far as their obligation to back Trump on the first vote.
The risk of a routing at a contested convention is becoming more acute because of Trump’s uncertain standing going into Wisconsin’s primary on Tuesday. Two polls this week showed Cruz 10 points ahead of Trump in the state.
A loss in Wisconsin would hardly be devastating, but it would surely embolden the anti-Trump forces in other states, making his efforts to win the 60 percent of the yet-to-be-awarded delegates to reach the 1,237 figure needed to clinch the nomination outright that much more difficult, according to a POLITICO analysis.
“They’ve got to get their s— together in Wisconsin,” said a top Trump ally in the South. “If he doesn’t have 1,237, I’d be very concerned with what happens in Cleveland.”
Trump is still dominating national polls over Cruz by double digits, so it’s not like his support is collapsiing. But as his odds become longer to clinch the nomination before the convention, the anti-Trump forces in the GOP are bringing out their long knives and are ready to spill blood to prevent him from winning the nomination.
Cruz would be the logical second choice of convention delegates. But Cruz runs even worse against Clinton and Sanders than Trump* so it’s not clear that a majority of Trump supporters would sub out one loser for another.
So is Kasich the beneficiary of a second ballot meltdown by Trump? That seems highly improbable. Kasich is Bush lite and few would accept the moderate Ohio governor as the GOP nominee.
If there are two ballots at the convention without a winner, there’s a pretty good chance that there are going to be 10 ballots. If that’s the case, anyone could emerge to win the nomination. And a fractured, angry party will limp into November ripe for an overwhelming disaster.
*Correction: According to the RCP average, Cruz would actually fare better than Trump in the general election against both Clinton and Sanders. Clinton is ahead of Trump by 10.6 points but only leads Cruz by 2.8. Against Sanders, Trump loses by 15.8 points, Cruz by 9.4.
A version of this piece also appeared at The American Thinker