I agree with John that no rule or moral imperative says a candidate coming to a convention with a plurality, rather than a majority, of delegates, must be his Party’s nominee. If Trump, or any other Republican, so arrives in Cleveland, he must find a way to reach a majority. Failing that, he will have no valid complaint when the GOP selects someone else.
There is, however, a distinction between the old-time brokered conventions, such as the one that nominated Abraham Lincoln, and a modern day brokered (or “contested”) convention. In the old days, delegates were not, by and large, selected through primaries or caucuses of large numbers of voters. These days, they are.
Thus, even if Trump fails to get to Cleveland with a plurality, he will have racked up millions of votes and, if current trends continue, roughly two million more votes than his nearest rival. Already, he’s at 4.3 million, nearly 1 million more than Ted Cruz who is in second place.
It’s one thing when backroom dealing overrides prior backroom dealing. It’s another when it overrides voter preference.
This doesn’t change the equities, in my opinion. The rules are the rules, and they say the nomination requires a majority of delegates, not a plurality. Moreover, if Trump lacks a majority of delegates, he will also surely lack a majority of primary/caucus votes. Right now, he’s at only 35 percent.
In any case, what would be a more fitting setting in which, through use of the rules, to deny the nomination to a candidate with a plurality than this year’s situation in which the plurality candidate is disliked by a huge portion of the GOP — a party he shunned until recently?
Keep in mind too that many delegates will have been awarded in contests where independents and Democrats voted. Yes, the rules permitted them to. But the rules also permit nominating someone other than the guy who shows up at the convention with only a plurality.
The problem is that unlike in the case of William Seward, if the Republicans nominate someone other than Trump (assuming he has a plurality), there will be hell to pay. Millions of Trump supporters will cry foul. (Nor do I see the GOP nominee making Trump his Secretary of State, as was done for Seward.)
Don’t bore Trump supporters with talk of Lincoln; how many people did he employ at his little law firm? If Trump isn’t nominated in spite of having a plurality, most of his supporters will consider the Republican nominee illegitimate and, most likely, refuse in large numbers to vote for him.
This doesn’t mean that Republicans opposed to Trump shouldn’t use the rules to try and nominate someone else. Nor does it mean we shouldn’t hope they succeed. Nominating Trump would probably split the party as badly as nominating non-Trump, though I think Trump would be more likely than non-Trump to find a way to mitigate the damage.
And nominating Trump has this additional drawback for conservative, non-authoritarian Republicans– it would mean Trump is the nominee.
All I’m suggesting is that one way or another, conservative non-authoritarian Republicans have lost the game, at least this year and quite possibly for much longer, if Trump obtains a plurality of the delegates.