Posted by Curt on 7 April, 2016 at 4:16 pm. 1 comment.


Ross Douthat:

In Donald Trump’s characteristically gracious and temperate statementfollowing his drubbing in Wisconsin, he accused Ted Cruz of being not just a “puppet” but “a Trojan horse,” a flag of convenience for “party bosses attempting to steal the nomination.”

The image of Cruz as a tool of the Republican Party’s “bosses” is not one that would have occurred to anyone before this primary season. But clearly some elite Republicans do imagine him as a stalking horse for the more congenial and electable nominee they fondly imagine might be elevated by the convention if Cruz denies Trump the nomination on the early ballots.

This is the theory driving John Kasich’s continuing campaign for president, which survives on nothing save the thin oxygen provided by polls showinghim beating Hillary Clinton handily in a general election. It’s a possible explanation for why Marco Rubio hasn’t actually endorsed Cruz yet, and why Mitt Romney has endorsed him only as the best #NeverTrump choice, not outright; both men may still imagine themselves as seventh-ballot nominees. And it’s the reason that Republican insiders keep floating trial balloons about a Paul Ryan white knight candidacy, which Ryan has only tentatively batted away.

These strange scenarios, and the machinations and floor fights that might make them possible, are basically the reason that journalists pine for a contested convention. They were not actually that fanciful two months ago, when it seemed plausible that if the race was pushed to the convention, it would be an evenly matched three-way battle among Cruz, Trump and Rubio that did it.

In that scenario, or in a counterfactual in which Kasich was actually piling up as many delegates as Cruz, you could imagine a convention splitting three ways on ballot after ballot, with Trump’s support gradually shrinking but holding up well enough to deny the other two a majority. Then the convention might actually reach the point of exhaustion when a white-knight alternative would seem almost just: If none of the candidates can beat the others, then none of them should get the nod.

But if Cruz succeeds in pushing the race to the convention, we won’t have that scenario; instead we’ll have just two candidates with three-quarters of the delegates between them, and a third wheel, Kasich, who shows no signs of building the delegate-selecting juggernaut that could make him a big player on the floor.

Instead, the only candidate building such a machine is Cruz himself. His team has been working the system since Iowa, getting as many loyalists as possible chosen for delegate slates, to the point where it seems reasonable to assume that many delegates pledged to Trump will switch to Cruz at the first opportunity.

It also seems reasonable, as FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver has pointed out, to assume that many of the delegates who aren’t explicitly recruited by Team Cruz will still like him just fine. As loathed as the Texas senator might be in the Senate cloakroom, there’s no evidence that he’s similarly despised among the grass-roots activists who often become or help pick convention delegates; quite the reverse, in fact.

So play things out, and Cruz’s path to victory at a contested convention looks very clear indeed. On the first ballot, Trump wins (let’s say) 1,150 votes, while Cruz wins (say) 825. On the next two ballots, some of the Trump delegates start to jump ship, and most of them go to Cruz, since his people have spent months working on them. By the third ballot, the Texas senator is closing in on 1,237, in a hall filled with people who generally like him and definitely prefer him to Trump. What would prevent him from getting there?

The answer has to be something more than a vague desire among certain of Cruz’s delegates to vote for a figure like Ryan or Romney instead. That desire may exist: Some of Cruz’s delegates will be more moderate than he is, some of them will worry that he’s a hopeless general-election candidate, some of them will be party men or women who find his self-interested ambition off-putting, some of them will be #NeverTrump types who actually preferred Kasich or Rubio.

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