2016 Elections

The Last Stand of Dump Trump

Why Republican efforts to block the party's nominee lost steam.

The movement was real. Now it is (all but) over.

Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

The Dump Trump movement will (almost for sure) fail at the Republican National Convention next week. But consider this: It is the first presidential convention with even a hint of uncertainty about the nominee since 1980, when Senator Ted Kennedy took a hopeless challenge to President Jimmy Carter all the way to the floor of the Democratic National Convention.

The Dump Trumpers aren’t trying to maximize a protest vote. They’re really trying to prevent Trump from being nominated. Even though he has far more than the needed 1,237 delegates bound to him for the main event -- the vote for the nomination -- by his campaign’s own count, he has only about 900 delegates fully loyal to him. This means that on every vote on the party platform and procedures, and even on the vice-president nomination, Trump needs to persuade delegates who aren’t in Cleveland as fans of his to stick with him.

It appears that most of these remaining 300-plus delegates hate the prospect of chaos even more than they dislike the presumptive nominee. Therefore, an attempt to free bound delegates to vote their personal preferences, instead of following what the voters in primaries and caucuses in their states wanted, will fail. Indeed, the proposal in the convention Rules Committee to “free” the delegates later this week may not even get enough votes (one quarter of the committee) to earn a vote in the full convention. Dump Trump activist Erick Erickson claims the votes are there, but even he doesn’t sound very confident.

When it comes down to it, many Republicans still prefer Trump as the lesser of evils compared with some possible candidates who might replace him. Arch-conservatives don’t want Ohio Governor John Kasich; moderates and people who work with him don’t want Senator Ted Cruz. There is no obvious consensus candidate for the delegates to rally behind, and the Republican Party isn’t very good at compromise, in any case. 

Meanwhile, the polls, which have Trump down some 5 percentage points against Hillary Clinton, haven’t given most Republicans any sense of urgency. For those who care mainly about election results, Trump seems like a loser, but perhaps not, or perhaps not a disastrous one, and sticking with him seems a safer choice at this point than plunging into an ugly convention battle.

So Republicans could wind up with a fairly harmonious convention. That doesn’t mean the party is united. Many leading Republicans won’t even be in Cleveland next week -- either because they can’t support the nominee or because they don’t want to be associated with him or because they just have to be somewhere, anywhere, else. 

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