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Dump Trump Republicans Hatch a New Line of Attack

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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The Dump Trump rumbling continues, as “dozens”of Republican delegates attempt to organize a real effort to defeat the presumptive Republican nominee at the national convention in Cleveland in July, and other party actors consider their best option under the rules.

According to the Washington Post, "dozens of Republican delegates are hatching a new plan to block Donald Trump," though it wasn't clear exactly how. The core of any effort would have to involve establishing rules for the convention that would allow delegates allocated to Trump to vote against him on the first ballot, despite tentative rules that bind them to vote for him. 

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There's no indication that Trump is really in trouble, though we still have no reliable whip counts of his genuine support on the convention Rules Committee or at the full convention.

Still, even if there are enough potential Dump Trumpers to win a vote, they would still need to be willing to do it.

There is no consensus alternative, which means that the movement against Trump probably will fizzle if it’s perceived as an attempt to install any particular candidate. We know, for example, that many Republican party actors prefer Trump (bad as they consider him) to Senator Ted Cruz. Others might be deterred from opposing Trump if they believed that would mean replacing him with a “moderate” or “establishment” figure such as Mitt Romney.

In other words, as long as the Republican Party continues to be divided and dysfunctional (which isn’t going to change in the next few weeks), the best strategy for beating Trump is to form as broad an alliance as possible to vote for rules that would unbind the delegates, while doing everything possible to be neutral about who the eventual nominee would be.

At best, that allows every delegate to believe his or her preferred candidate would benefit. At worst, it means that delegates who vote with the Dump Trumpers would be choosing a risk of total chaos as the nation watches.

That’s one reason that smart observers such as Cook Report’s Amy Walter and the New Republic’s Jeet Heer think a movement against Trump at the convention is a pipe dream. A political scientist I spoke with this week agreed: He argued that Trump supporters would never accept overturning the results of the primaries and caucuses.

Perhaps.

In the end, very few people actually care about procedure, even if they often express their grievances in terms of procedural fairness.

Which means the real question for party actors is whether current Republican voters who currently support Trump would move on to any candidate who emerged from a convention with consensus (apart from Trump himself) support from the party, including party-aligned media.

My guess is that Republican voters would find it easy to transfer their loyalties. After all, the eventual nominee wouldn’t be far from Trump’s positions on issues such as immigration and terrorism, even though that nominee would express those positions without the overt, explicit bigotry that Trump uses. It’s possible that lots of Republican voters really care about having a candidate who spews ugly slurs, but it’s also possible that plenty of Republicans would move on quickly.

Nonetheless, I remain skeptical that Dump Trump can pull it off. But there's never been a moment like this before – a nominee approaching the convention with hardly any support from his own party and increasingly deep pessimism about that nominee’s general election chances. So until we have solid delegate counts showing Trump with the votes, I’m not ruling out the possibility, either.

  1. See, for example, Bernie Sanders supporters who are currently fired up about the unfairness of closed primaries.

  2. One enormous problem is that Dump Trumpers cannot assume conservative talk show hosts and others in the Republican-aligned media would lead their audiences back to the eventual nominee – which is one of the reasons Republicans wound up in this mess to begin with. It is worth noting, however, that most conservative media outlets were willing to go along with Mitt Romney and John McCain from their conventions to the general election.   

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net