Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The 2016 presidential campaign has been distracted momentarily by the Obama selection of Judge Merrick Garland as his nominee to the SCOTUS to replace Justice Scalia. For a few days this will run ahead of the campaign and then Congress will take its two week Easter (spring) recess and attention will return to the campaign circus. Given the hard opposition position against even considering a presidential court nominee until after November, as voiced repeatedly by Senate Majority Leader McConnell, it appears that there will be considerable time to consider the politics involved in this potentially ugly fight when the lines are drawn more sharply next month. Meanwhile, it is important to note some ominous signs developing as the Republicans consider their remaining options for a nominee.
The major political question outstanding for the GOP as it prepares for the Cleveland convention is whether Trump will obtain the necessary 1237 delegate votes to win the nomination on the first ballot. Based on approximate numbers, Trump’s 673 delegates leaves him 564 short at the moment. To obtain the additional delegates, Trump will need to win almost 60% of the remaining primary delegates. Many analysts place him in the neighborhood of 100 delegates shy of 1237 needed for the Republican nomination. If the convention does not bow to his pressure and at the end of the first ballot swing over to a vote for Trump, all bets are off as to what may develop.
The Republican Party indeed must consider the future of the party if they seek to employ traditional procedures and techniques as existed in prior conventions to stop what appears now to be an inevitable Trump nomination. Alternatively the party could concede the nomination to Trump rather than risk a full blown potential riot on the floor of the convention and in the city of Cleveland. If, as expected, many Trump supporters descend on Cleveland for the convention—reportedly already projected to be 50,000 people in the streets—and respond to what they might sense to be a denial of the nomination to their candidate, then the riot control and training that the Cleveland police are reportedly already undergoing, will be severely tested by a Trump mob riot.
That these fears are not strictly idle dreams are confirmed by the statements that Trump himself has been making over the past days in suggesting he cannot control or predict what his supporters-denied might do. This strategy which offers him plausible deniability is precisely the tactic which will only encourage and excite his backers to come prepared to engage in a confrontation which may make the 1968 “Siege of Chicago” look like a mere warm up act.
The Republican Party appears to be stuck in a Catch 22. If it refuses to permit Trump’s demagoguery to capture the party, it risks alienating his followers, breaking the party, perhaps assisting him in creating a new party, and virtually guaranteeing Hillary a victory in November. On the other, if the Party permits Trump to gain the nomination, it will alienate much of the center as well as the conservative wing of the party, probably guaranteeing Hillary a victory in November, and—should Trump win in November—having assisted in presenting America with the greatest threat ever to the integrity of its democracy.