David Brooks thinks there's still time to save the GOP from the party's leading candidate in the presidential race. But please don't talk about rescuing the party with the runner-up:
First, hit the pause button on the rush to Cruz. Second, continue the Romneyesque assault on Trump. The results on Saturday, when late voters swung sharply against the Donald, suggest it may be working.
Third, work for a Marco Rubio miracle in Florida on March 15. Fourth, clear the field for John Kasich in Ohio. If Rubio and Kasich win their home states, Trump will need to take nearly 70 percent of the remaining delegates to secure a majority. That would be unlikely; he’s only winning 44 percent of the delegates now.
The party would go to the convention without a clear nominee. It would be bedlam for a few days, but a broadly acceptable new option might emerge. It would be better than going into the fall with Trump, which would be a moral error, or Cruz, who in November would manage to win several important counties in Mississippi.
Michael Gerson doesn't reject Cruz outright, but he's no fan either:
Every Republican of the type concerned with winning in November has been asking the question (at least internally): “What if the worst happens?”
The worst does not mean the nomination of Ted Cruz, in spite of justified fears of political disaster. Cruz is an ideologue with a message perfectly tuned for a relatively small minority of the electorate. Uniquely in American politics, the senator from Texas has made his reputation by being roundly hated by his colleagues -- apparently a prerequisite for a certain kind of anti-establishment conservative, but unpromising for an image makeover at his convention.
Cruz’s nomination would represent the victory of the hard right -- religious right and tea party factions -- within the Republican coalition.
A few days ago, Gerson compiled a list of options for dealing with Trump, beginning with this:
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Option 1: Support the candidate in second place in the hope of beating Trump’s plurality with more votes and delegates. “We may be in a position,” says Sen. Lindsey Graham, “where we have to rally around Ted Cruz as the only way to stop Donald Trump.” Marco Rubio, in this argument, simply hasn’t risen to the moment. And at least Cruz is a legitimate Republican.
However, Gerson added this:
But anyone concerned about Trump’s nativism will find it very difficult to support Cruz, who has criticized Trump for being too soft on illegal immigration. Cruz would be a weak candidate against Hillary Clinton. His 100-proof conservatism is not to everyone’s taste. And, as one South Carolina Republican told me, he seems “covered in a thick layer of people repellant.”
Ultimately, Gerson also said he favors the "vote for whoever can win a state" strategy to deny Trump a first-ballot convention victory. Although he didn't mention any other candidates, he specifically cited Florida and Ohio, where Cruz is not the obvious Trump alternative.
I bring all this up because it suggests to me that if Republican establishmentarians really do get their brokered convention, they're not just going to try to rebuff the guy who's #1 in the delegate count -- they really might try to blow off the top two, Trump and Cruz.
And remember, the problem might not just be that Trump and Cruz are #1 and #2. Their backers are by far the angriest people in the party.
How's that going to work out for the GOP? Is there where I should be saying, "Pass the popcorn"?
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog