Romney’s plan to beat Trump (and how it could backfire)

posted at 8:01 pm on March 3, 2016 by John Sexton

Earlier today Buzzfeed reported Mitt Romney’s decision not to endorse an alternative to Donald Trump was a strategic choice to avoid being pigeon-holed as just another surrogate on the campaign trail. By Thursday afternoon, CNN was reporting Romney’s more practical explanation: He doesn’t believe any of the other candidates can beat Trump:

Romney is focused on suppressing Trump’s delegate count to prevent him from accumulating the 1,237 delegates he needs to secure the nomination…

According to the source, Romney does not expect Rubio, Cruz or Kasich to emerge as the single candidate that can accumulate 1,237 delegates and outright defeat Trump before the convention.

In hindsight, this part of Romney speech make much more sense:

If the other candidates can find some common ground, I believe we can nominate a person who can win the general election and who will represent the values and policies of conservatism. Given the current delegate selection process, that means that I’d vote for Marco Rubio in Florida and for John Kasich in Ohio and for Ted Cruz or whichever one of the other two contenders has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump in a given state.

So Romney is saying it’s probably too late for any one candidate to defeat Trump but by denying Trump enough wins there is room for a deal to be made at the convention. Assuming for the sake of argument Romney’s plan works, wouldn’t Trump consider that a violation of the pledge he signed with the party? According to CNN, party insiders, “believe it will likely drive Trump into a third party candidacy in the fall.”

You don’t really need to be a party insider to know Trump is already thinking about this possibility. Thrusday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Trump said, “So I signed a letter with the RNC and I said, you know, I want to do this as a Republican, the pledge as they call it, but I’m not being treated the right way. I’m not being treated properly.” The other point Trump made several times in the interview was “if I get out, all those people are going, they’re all going with me.”

This gets to the element of all this that I’m not sure Mitt Romney has factored into his thinking: the psychology of Trump’s most ardent supporters. What Trump’s supporters like is seeing the blunt, politically incorrect billionaire shake up the establishment and vanquish his opponents. Ask yourself, what bigger shake up could there be than blowing up the GOP convention. Like everything else so far, this isn’t going to hurt Trump, it’s going to help him. It’s the ultimate tribute to his status as an outsider, a threat to the status quo, a disrupter who is too much for insiders to handle.

There is precisely zero chance Trump’s supporters are going to graciously accept defeat and calmly consider which alternative GOP candidate to support. Instead, they are going to feel (and to some extent rightly so) that their candidate has had the nomination stolen from him by the dreaded establishment. Like the incredible Hulk, they are going to get angrier and probably stronger. The #NeverTrump movement is going to be dwarfed by the #NeverWhoever movement started by Trump’s camp if Romney’s plan plays out. And when Trump goes third party the raucous energy his supporters have brought to the GOP is going to walk out the door with him.

Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe for Romney and others in the party this has become a matter of principle and a fight for the legacy of the GOP. If so that’s one thing. But it’s important to known ahead of time that the one thing Romney’s stop Trump effort is least likely to do is actually stop Trump.


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