I use “emerges” in the loosest possible sense. Quin Hillyer:
I can reliably report that the former U.S. Senator from Oklahoma, Dr. Tom Coburn, would accept a draft from the convention floor if delegates petition successfully to put his name in nomination…
[T]he prospect is daunting but not impossible. Coburn reportedly will not openly campaign for the nomination, but would accept the nomination and run with enthusiasm if nominated.
There’s something familiar about this. Four months ago, a few days after Trump’s big win in the Florida primary, the New York Times reported that some Republicans were beginning to stir about the prospect of a third-party challenge if the unthinkable happened and Trump ended up as presumptive nominee. The name most widely touted as a potential challenger (besides Mitt Romney): Tom Coburn.
Among the recruits under discussion are Tom Coburn, a former Oklahoma senator who has told associates that he would be open to running, and Rick Perry, the former Texas governor who was suggested as a possible third-party candidate at a meeting of conservative activists on Thursday in Washington.
Mr. Coburn, who left the Senate early last year to receive treatment for cancer, said in an interview that Mr. Trump “needs to be stopped” and that he expected to back an independent candidate against him. He said he had little appetite for a campaign of his own, but did not flatly rule one out.
April came and went, starting with Cruz’s big win in Wisconsin and ending with Trump drubbing him across the mid-Atlantic, with no moves from Coburn. Trump’s decisive win in Indiana happened on May 3rd; Cruz and Kasich were out of the race within 24 hours and Trump was, against all odds, the man who’d be anointed in Cleveland. Still nothing from Coburn. By June, Anti-Trumpers eager to recruit a conservative independent to run were so desperate to find a candidate that they turned to NRO staffer David French because pols — like Tom Coburn — kept turning them down. The “Dump Trump” delegates in Cleveland who spent the past month trying to organize a revolt on the Rules Committee ran into the same problem. Dump Trump, their critics complained, and replace him with who? If Coburn wanted to throw even a small wrench into the coronation, the time to make his willingness to be drafted known publicly was a month ago, when the “Dump Trump” group was reaching out to wary delegates. At the very, very latest, he should have done it last week before the Rules Committee vote on unbinding the delegates. Doing it now smacks of half-heartedly placating his friends and supporters who have been leaning on him to do something, not earnestly challenging Trump. “Sure, guys. If you can convince the delegates to revolt, I’ll agree to be the nominee. Now let me read my newspaper.”
Hillyer’s follow-up on how this might happen procedurally is unconvincing too. The first step is easy enough: Get a majority of delegates from five states to sign a petition supporting placing Coburn’s name in nomination. The next step, organizing mass abstentions among the delegates on the first ballot for choosing a nominee, is much harder. You’d need hundreds and hundreds of delegates to agree, including many who are pledged to Trump by rule. The “Dump Trump” people couldn’t find so much as 28 delegates on their Committee to force a floor vote on a “conscience clause,” so who’s going to coordinate the mass abstentions? And even if it were possible, Hillyer acknowledges that the GOP powers that be would try to ignore the abstentions on the first ballot by recording any pledged delegates as votes for Trump whether they’re in the building or not. Imagine, for instance, that the entire delegation from Florida walked out in protest of Trump and missed the vote. Would the chair record zero votes for him — or would it record 99 votes, since that’s how many pledged delegates he won from the state on March 15th? The answer is obvious. Hillyer’s solution is a lawsuit by delegates who abstain against the RNC claiming fraud in recording them as having voted when they really didn’t, but what are the odds that a judge at any level would meddle in a private organization’s procedures when there’s a presidential nomination being held up in court over it? This is beyond pipe-dream. In fact, I’d bet that not only will Coburn’s sudden flirtation with the delegates go nowhere, so will the other procedural gambits planned this week by anti-Trumpers to try to slow down the convention proceedings. They’re a beaten movement, at least in Cleveland. What’s to be gained by gumming up the works any further?
Two exit questions for you. One: Why didn’t Coburn make himself available as a Trump alternative sooner? If the answer is “health issues,” why did he start telling people he’d be open to being drafted in the first place? Two: If the delegates are just a rubber stamp for primary voters, what’s the point of having delegates? Just hold the primaries and then whoever has the most “electoral votes” at the end wins. You can still have a big party for the nominee somewhere to give him publicity without going through this procedural nonsense. The RNC has completely eviscerated the idea of delegates as empowered to overrule primary voters; they might as well adopt a new nominating procedure to reflect that.