The last gasps of #NeverTrump

The #NeverTrump campaign is still missing one thing as the convention looms — an alternative

There is little time left to take down Donald Trump.
(Image credit: REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

Now that Bernie Sanders has finally endorsed Hillary Clinton, the potential for fireworks at the Democratic National Convention is now limited to celebratory displays. Sanders won't challenge Clinton for control of the platform or use the media to demand more speaking slots on the stage. Sanders' legions of supporters will have no rallying point for their differences with the soon-to-be-official nominee; they will either quietly stew about the result, or find some heretofore untapped reserves of enthusiasm for the woman they've opposed for more than a year. Either way, the convention in Philadelphia will look a lot more like 2008 than 1968.

Next week's Republican National Convention will be a very different story.

It's been two months since Donald Trump forced all of his competitors out of the primaries, but his conservative opponents remain convinced they can derail a Trump nomination in Cleveland. But they lack one key component: a viable alternative.

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Trump has more than enough bound delegates to easily win on the first ballot. He needed 1,237 out of 2,472 for the simple majority necessary, and won 1,415 bound and another 127 unbound delegates. Under normal circumstances, with these numbers Republicans would long ago have begun to measure the drapes for the staged acceptance speech rather than delve deeply into the rules looking for loopholes to get around the results of their primaries.

Not this cycle, however. Activists opposed to Trump have agitated for a rule change that would unbind the delegates, but have fallen far short of the requisite support on the rules committee. They now claim, however, that enough votes exist to qualify for a minority report — a proposal that would come to the full convention floor for all of the delegates to vote on. Kendal Unruh only needed 28 votes on the rules committee to produce the minority report, and she claims to have at least that many now, even if they are shy about declaring themselves publicly.

Furthermore, Unruh claims that almost half of Trump's bound delegates are itching for a way to avoid voting for him. "An internal survey conducted by RNC member Randy Evans (Georgia), who is trying to help Trump lock up the nomination, told The Wall Street Journal that only 890 delegates are personally loyal to Trump," Unruh told The Daily Wire. "Evans claims 680 are known to be opposed to Trump, and he says that 900 delegates are 'in play.' So, no, Trump certainly does not have this locked up — particularly if delegates are allowed to vote their consciences."

Perhaps this is true. Let's give Unruh the benefit of the doubt and say this unfolds exactly as planned. Trump only gets 890 votes on the first ballot. Trump won't have the nomination — at that point, anyway. Then what happens?

This is where the plan gets … murky. In 1976, the opposition to delegate leader Gerald Ford had a candidate around which to rally: Ronald Reagan. In fact, Reagan came close to wresting the nomination from Ford, but narrowly missed his chance even with a clearer basis on which to challenge the presumptive nominee.

Forty years later, the opposition to the presumptive nominee has no consensus candidate around whom to rally. The #NeverTrump movement tried repeatedly to get a candidate to declare against Trump, either as a convention challenger or as an independent, and no one volunteered for the effort. Even now, no one has stepped up to fill the void, which leaves suddenly unbound delegates with no specific direction in a challenge to Trump.

And who would get drafted in such an effort? The 2016 class of primary candidates would have to argue that they could do better running a general election campaign against Clinton than they managed in the primaries against Trump. That includes Ted Cruz, who comes into the convention in second place with 563 delegates, a fraction of what Trump has. Marco Rubio has shifted his attention to the Senate campaign in Florida, getting in under the wire and leaving Republicans with no candidate at all if he changes his mind again. John Kasich only won Ohio in the primaries and has repeatedly repudiated the dump Trump effort (while refusing to endorse the nominee).

But let's just say this effort still somehow succeeded in producing a consensus nominee not named Trump. There's the not-inconsequential issue of having a nominee with no campaign less than four months before the election. Trump may have gotten off to a slow start on fundraising and may be risking a landslide defeat by refusing to turn his campaign into a granular ground-up organization, but he does have an organization in place. Four months is barely enough time to start organizing a pre-primary campaign, let alone a national election.

The dump Trump movement would have to convince itself that chaos at the convention will produce a better result for the GOP than the primaries did. That's a tough sell under any circumstances, and without an obvious candidate to replace Trump, it's far more likely that we'll see the end of #NeverTrump rather than the end of Trump himself.

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