An improbable white knight for the GOP

With a contested GOP convention now likely, it is time to consider a white knight unsullied by the bruising contest and acceptable to the warring factions.  Donald Trump has little chance of winning the requisite 1,237 delegates before the convention in July, as many GOP insiders now recognize.  Furthermore, while he has the most delegates at this point (and will most likely have the most going into the convention), in reality, Trump has won only a marginal plurality of actual votes; he has won nearly 47% of delegates but only 37% of actual votes.  Whether the remaining 63% were pro-other candidate or anti-Trump votes is beside the point.  Over 60% of the party’s base does not want Donald Trump to be the party’s nominee.  That is a yuge number.  For argument’s sake, let’s assume that Trump would get another 20-30% to coalesce behind him.  That would still leave a huge portion of the voting base at home on Election Day. 

Granted, Democrats also have problems.  Hillary Clinton is a liability because of her scandalous past.  Bernie Sanders is a liability because of his radicalism.  If Clinton is denied the nomination for some reason, it is doubtful that Democrats will hand it to Sanders.  It is more likely that a retread candidate from Democrat past (e.g., Joe Biden, Al Gore, John Kerry, perhaps Elizabeth Warren) will get the nod.  While Trump could defeat Sanders, it would be nearly impossible for him to beat these other possible candidates, who are much more experienced and are much more popular, particularly within the Democrat base.

There have been many good potential candidates on the Republican side, of which Ted Cruz is among the best.  The ideal scenario is for voters to coalesce behind Cruz and run him against the Democrat; however, if the GOP is going to deny Trump the nomination, it is surely going to do the same to Cruz.  Cruz would be more likely to win on a second or third ballot at a contested convention than Trump, but the GOP establishment tolerates him now only because he is the lesser of two evils.

Again, if the GOP is going to deny Trump the nomination, it will surely do the same to Cruz, who has been a thorn in the GOP’s sides since entering the race for senator in Texas.  All Republicans under the “big tent” need to begin to wrap their minds around the idea that the eventual nominee may be someone (and I would argue should be) who has not before been a candidate.

Of course Paul Ryan’s name has been floated as the nominee.  This is a terrible idea for three reasons.  First, he has proven to be a “deal-maker” much as John Boehner was as House speaker.  Second, he’s a proven loser in a national race.  Not only was Ryan a poor choice for Mitt Romney’s running mate (he didn’t bring the energy Romney lacked, and he didn’t diversify the ticket), but he lost to Joe Biden in their only debate.  Third, Ryan’s surrogates have been floating his name as the nominee while the race is still ongoing.  Because of this, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for Ryan to gain Trump supporters’ trust and support.  Supporters of other candidates would likely come around to Ryan’s nomination because they seem to put country ahead of their candidate.  However, many if not most Trump supporters have a “Trump or no one” attitude.

This is why putting Nikki Haley forward as the nominee is the best way to proceed.  Granted, she ruffled some feathers when she endorsed Marco Rubio; however, she has not “stuck her nose” into the ongoing nomination process.

Nikki Haley is the best (and perhaps only) choice in this scenario for many reasons.  First, unlike with Trump, there is no doubt that Haley is an ardent conservative.  She has fought Democrats, both in her state and nationally.  Second, she is a governor of an important red state.  Third, and perhaps most importantly, she’s energetic, passionate, and unafraid to pick a fight, which is something Republicans have lacked since Ronald Reagan left office.  The added bonus, of course, is that Haley is a woman and an ethnic minority, being of Indian descent.

The danger in this is manifold.  First of all, Trump supporters will feel jaded by their candidate being “robbed” of the nomination.  The plain and simple fact is, though, that Trump cannot win the general election, whether against Hillary Clinton or whomever they get to replace her on the ticket.  It’s like a football team who is down by more than a field goal with time running out.  The only way to win is to throw a Hail Mary.  Running Donald Trump in the general election would be like running a dive play with the fullback in hopes of him running it into the end zone from fifty yards out.  Denying Trump – and I mean at all costs – is perhaps like the proverbial Hail Mary.  However, it is really the only chance Republicans have of winning in November.

The Republican National Convention is being held in Cleveland, Ohio, a city also known as the “Mistake by the Lake.”  The biggest mistake the GOP could make in Cleveland would be to nominate Donald Trump.  Bypassing him for Paul Ryan would almost be equally unwise.  Convincing Nikki Haley to become the nominee is the party’s best hope.

The convention is being held from July 18-21, which is nearly four months before the general election in November.  The party would have plenty of time to heal its wounds before the election and perhaps even convince many Trump supporters to come around and align themselves against the Democrats.  This election is much too serious to run the risk of nominating a lifelong Democrat, who has donated big money to very liberal Democrats, and who would be running against a more experienced Democrat.

Layne Hansen is a Ph.D. student in American politics.  He can be reached for comment at layne.d.hansen@gmail.com or @hansenlayne on Twitter.