Burying a Trump card: Can the Republican Party stop their nemesis?

2:32 pm on 6 March 2016

ANALYSIS: For anyone wondering if the big wigs in the Grand Old Party (Republicans) are actually worried about Donald Trump as nominee - or if it is just a media beat-up, the answer is simple:

They're not worried; they're terrified and appalled and genuinely fearing for the future of the party.

Republican presidential candidates (Lto R) Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, participate in a debate sponsored by Fox News on March 3, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. Voters in Michigan will go to the polls March 8 for the State's primary.

Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich. Photo: AFP

Republican nominee for the 2012 election Mitt Romney didn't hold back on Thursday, calling Mr Trump a phony and a fraud.

He's not alone. After the Massachusetts primary, the state's Republican governor Charlie Baker said he hadn't voted for Trump in the primary and "I'm not going to vote for him in November".

Mel Martinez, former Republican National Committee chair told The Wall Street Journal "I would not vote for Trump ... If there is any, any, any other choice, a living, breathing person with a pulse, I would be there".

Nebraskan senator Ben Sasse went further, saying "if the Republican Party becomes the party of David Duke, Donald Trump - I'm out."

Counselor of the Department of State during the George W. Bush administration Eliot Cohen tweeted his opinion:

Peter Werner, who worked in the Reagan and both Bush administrations, was scathing in a NY Times piece titled "Why I will Never Vote for Donald Trump".

"Mr. Trump's virulent combination of ignorance, emotional instability, demagogy, solipsism and vindictiveness would do more than result in a failed presidency; it could very well lead to national catastrophe ... Mr Trump is precisely the kind of man our system of government was designed to avoid ... he is beyond the pale. Party loyalty has limits."

Those are die-hard life-long establishment Republicans. Mr Trump's claim on Tuesday, "I'm a unifier", doesn't exactly ring true. But so far The Donald's fans don't mind what the party hierarchy think. It only seems to spur them on.

So, how can the party make sure he isn't their pick?

Donald Trump

Donald Trump Photo: AFP

1. Change the rules

This is the Republican Party's own contest so potentially they can just rig the game. They've done it before.

The rules for this year's primary season may have been especially written to advantage Jeb Bush. But, as he found, these things have a way of causing unintended consequences.

Convention rule 40 on who can be put up for a vote was changed for the 2012 convention to keep Ron Paul's name off.

The new rule (that you must have won eight states by a clear majority) still applies and may need changing again to enable any names at all on the ballot this time around, but they can't be changed until the rules committee meets for the convention in July.

That committee will not be controlled by Trump supporters so they can make any rule they like.

They could make a rule to say all delegates are unbound and can vote their conscience immediately.

More pointedly they could demand that the nominee must never have belonged to another party, or must let the party own the trademark on their name?

Anything is possible, but the consequences and the potential backlash could be devastating.

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Photo: 123rf

2. Outnumber Trump with 'super' delegates

You need 1237 delegates to win the party nomination at the convention so the party could have all the automatic unbound delegates gang up on Trump.

But there's not many of them. The Republicans have three automatic unbound delegates per state, plus a few extras. For 168 votes to make a difference it would have to be a close fight.

This tactic is easier for the Democrats as they have more unbound delegates. After the outsiders George McGovern and Jimmy Carter were nominated in the 1970s the party increased the number of super delegates to help 'manage' future choices.

Jimmy Carter managed to win one term but Senator McGovern was trounced by Richard Nixon in the general election, winning just one state. They wanted to be able to prevent that happening again.

But they haven't done so. Because, again, the potential backlash could be devastating.

But after this year the GOP may decide more super delegates is a good idea.

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Photo: 123rf

3. Continue to split the vote and wait for the convention

Under the current rules state delegates are bound to vote for their pledged candidate for the first ballot. After that most states release them to change their minds. In theory this is so when the least popular candidate drops out at the convention his delegates can then vote for who he endorses.

So, if Donald Trump reaches the convention but is short of 50 percent, meaning there's no winner on the first ballot, all bets are off.

From the second round it would be a messy floor fight or a brokered convention where the party puts forward a consensus candidate from out of left field; someone like Romney's running mate Paul Ryan. This isn't outlandish, it seems the party is readying itself.

This tactic requires that the state primary votes get split between as many candidates as possible so that Donald Trump never manages a pure majority.

This is what Mitt Romney was suggesting in code when he said this week that he would support Marco Rubio in Florida and John Kasich in Ohio (their home states).

But it's not easy, there are now just four candidates left from the original 17 (like in one of those 10-green-bottles movies; Aliens, Cube, Battle Royale). The more that drop out, the less this tactic can work.

Ben Carson left this week and it is unclear who his votes will now move to. Possibly Ted Cruz as an evangelical, maybe Donald Trump as an outsider.

If Trump starts picking up the large 'winner take all' states from 15 March he'll have a clear majority and possible convention shenanigans will be academic.

And a rigged convention would have (all together now) a backlash that could be devastating.

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Photo: 123 RF

4. Try for a write-in candidate

This is a last-ditch tactic.

If the presidential election becomes Trump v Clinton, republican supporters could write an agreed alternative name on their ballots, Paul Ryan for example. This sounds ridiculous but it's happened twice before - and worked.

When Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska ran for re-election in 2010 she lost the nomination to a tea-party candidate Joe Miller who was backed by Sarah Palin.

The Senator ran a write-in campaign, which included helping people spell her name close to correctly. It worked. Mostly.

Presumably this time they can choose a consensus candidate with a really easy name. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, this could be your big chance.

This could however be a shambles, and what's more, the backlash could be devastating.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in a debate sponsored by Fox News at the Fox Theatre on March 3, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan.

Photo: AFP

But there are those pesky consequences...

Donald Trump has already threatened to run as an independent.

He's since promised not to but if the party changed the rules or rigged the vote or any of the other options Donald Trump might say they haven't played fair and he's within his rights to go rogue.

He'd struggle though. Each state has a deadline for filing an application to get on the ballot as an independent. To apply the candidate has to present the signatures of state supporters and for the first deadline in Texas that's 79,939 people by a deadline of May 9.

So Mr Trump would need to be collecting signatures and filing applications well before the convention.

But even if he missed the early deadlines, he could opt for revenge choosing a few late-filing states and running as a spoiler candidate to punish the party.

Say Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, Ohio and Colorado. That would doom the republicans in the general election.

Any of these actions may doom the party to fragment even further, losing the very base of angry, poor, ill-educated, racist, white folk that have been its back-bone since Nixon employed the Southern Strategy.

Anything is possible. American politics is a dirty business. No tactic seems too low. Every man for himself and devil take the hindmost.

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