By: Mickey Edwards
The front-runner is desperately trying to change party rules, turning a loss into a win he doesn’t deserve.
Donald Trump is likely on the verge of losing the Republican primary, falling short of the number of delegates required to win the presidential nomination. But, as bullies are wont to do, Trump is now trying desperately to change the rules—to argue that the nomination should go not to the candidate who wins 1,237 delegates but to whoever comes closest.
What’s wrong with that argument? Electing a U.S. president is not a schoolyard game, where goalposts change when bullies whine. There’s a reason a candidate has to make it to 1,237 votes to win the nomination. Each party’s goal is to put forth a nominee whom the party’s members, represented by their elected delegates, believe will best reflect the party’s collective judgment—a determination possible only when the level of support is clear and convincing. That’s why both parties set a benchmark, the political equivalent of the tape at the finishing line of a race, sufficient to establish the party’s preference. In a hundred-yard dash, a runner who beats the others but who can only manage 95 yards doesn’t go home with a medal.
At the convention this summer, assuming that none of Trump’s primary opponents will have reached that magic number either, the delegates will vote on who they think best represents the Republican Party until a single candidate does receive the necessary votes. It is this candidate, the one who is able actually to cross the finish line, who will win the right to become the party’s nominee. That person could be Trump, but it probably won’t be.
This is how it has always worked. Because none of the major contenders—John Kennedy, Stuart Symington, Hubert Humphrey or Pat Brown—had won the Democratic Party’s nomination prior to the 1960 convention, it was the delegates who chose Kennedy. Because Gerald Ford, even as an incumbent president, had not won enough delegates to claim the 1976 Republican nomination, he was selected by his party’s convention-goers, defeating Ronald Reagan at the convention by a mere 117 votes. Hubert Humphrey won the Democratic nomination for president in 1968 without entering a single primary. Never has either party accepted the claim that to come close is the same as winning. Donald Trump, like his competitors, knew these rules when he entered the race.
Trump’s contention is that even if he falls short, it’s clear that as the primary front-runner he is the overwhelming choice of Republicans; and, to deny him the nomination would be, in effect, stealing it from him. But actually, by that measure, to allow the convention to nominate Trump without his having won the requisite number of delegate votes would be the real theft: The truth is, Donald Trump is not the overwhelming choice of most Republicans. In fact, Trump is a man thoroughly despised by most Republicans. We have clear evidence of this embarrassing fact because Trump, with his bluster and insults, has made the nominating contest almost entirely about him: For months, voters have been deciding for or against Donald Trump, the main question being which of the candidates arrayed against him would be the one best positioned to stop him.
Here are the hard facts: As of today, 32 states have cast votes in the Republican presidential race through primaries, caucuses or conventions. In every single one of them, the anti-Trump forces have won a majority. In 22 of those states, more than 60 percent of Republican voters have rejected the Donald; in nine of those states, more than 70 percent rejected Trump. In all, according to the New York Times, 21,027,107 votes have been cast so far in the Republican nominating contests; and the anti-Trump vote has trounced the self-proclaimed avatar of greatness, 12,944,945 to 8,082,148. With the campaign essentially all about him, Trump or non-Trump, he is losing by nearly five million votes.
And then there’s the favorability ratings: A Washington Post/ABC poll this month found that Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Marco Rubio (who was then still in the race) all had higher favorable ratings among Republican voters and lower unfavorable ratings, with a full one-third of those polled reporting that they were “very dissatisfied” with Trump. On questions of honesty and trustworthiness, understanding of problems, and possessing the right personality to be president, Trump finished 20 points behind each of the other candidates.
And now he wants to convince voters and the press that somehow that amounts to a victory. Some of Trump’s opponents have described his campaign, with its exaggerations and outright lies, as a giant con game. Now he’s trying to pull of the greatest con of all, arguing that even if he fails to win the requisite number of delegates, he should nonetheless be awarded the nomination. He’s basing this argument on a lead he got because of the large number of other candidates dividing the vote during the early primaries—and also because the opposition to him was so great that voters couldn’t decide who would be the best candidate to put an end to his megalomania-driven campaign.
There are many reasons to deny Trump the nomination. For one, making him the face of the Republican Party would destroy the party for years to come, if not end it altogether because having him at the top of the party’s national ticket would likely lead to the defeat of a significant number of House and Senate members and give Democrats a Senate majority. More important, however, than the effect on the Republican Party, a Trump nomination could result in putting the presidency of the United States in the hands of a dangerous and bigoted demagogue who would not only undermine any claim to American exceptionalism—our constitutional commitment to human values and the rule of law—but also possibly draw the country into a series of high-level confrontations with nations around the world.
And here’s another reason: Republican voters, having now listened to Donald Trump for months, have overwhelmingly, by a margin of nearly five million votes, repudiated his claim to represent the party. When the convention comes, threats of riots notwithstanding, Republican delegates should do the right thing: follow the rules, declare the nomination not yet won, and find a candidate who best embodies Republican, and American, values.
Mickey Edwards served in Congress for 16 years and was chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee.