The GOP has spent 2016 making dumpster fires look good. The presumptive nominee for President is the most unpopular candidate nominated by a major political party in modern history. A quick look (or a long look) at Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight 2016 Election Forecast makes it clear that Donald J. Trump is in serious trouble. Add that to his horrific fund-raising numbers and it’s obvious that it would take a minor miracle for Trump to be anywhere close to winning in November. The fact is that the only thing keeping this race even remotely competitive is that Hillary Clinton is the second most unpopular nominee ever. (If Joe Biden had entered the race then I suspect Trump would probably be polling below 35% and the Democrats would have a chance of getting 400+ electoral votes.)
The reasons for this mess are obvious. Donald Trump is manifestly unqualified to be President of the United States, and he’s a particularly bad choice for the Republican Party. His first and only priority is and always will be what will benefit Donald J. Trump. All his decisions are based on that one consideration; no conservative principles (or progressive principles for that matter) need apply. Any position he has taken will be abandoned the second it becomes personally inconvenient. As a result, he can’t consolidate his base. Nor can he appeal to voters who are turned off by Hillary Clinton’s corruption and dishonesty. Can anyone say with a straight face that Trump would be the picture of truth and transparency?
So what’s a political party to do? If they go forward with Trump, they lose. Badly. Fortunately Trump is still the presumptive nominee. He may have won a plurality of the primary vote, but this is the Republican party. (For those of you who don’t know the difference between a republic and a democracy, it’s the delegates’ votes that count here.) The party could live up to its name and decide to choose a different candidate a few weeks from now at the convention. But will that work? Only if they play it just right.
If the delegates simply revolt and refuse Trump the nomination, the result will be chaos. His supporters will revolt, Trump will tie up the party in lawsuits, and the media will gleefully give him all the airtime he needs to tear the party apart. There is no obvious nominee who could replace him and unify the party. The only bright side will be that the party will have kept some shred of its honor and dignity.
The only way out is for Trump to go willingly. Given that his motivations are primarily selfish, it could happen. First, the party would have to convince him that there’s a very good chance he’ll lose and damage his reputation permanently. (Easier said than done.) Then they’ll have to buy him out. There’s no way he’s going if he loses money on the deal. They’ll need to be able to spin all this in a way that makes Trump look like the hero, and they’ll probably have to let him feel like he’s still got power over what happens next. If he thinks he’s the king-maker, the one pulling the strings, he might go for it. Otherwise he’ll probably sabotage his replacement out of spite.
It’s a dangerous option, and the odds of convincing Trump to walk away are small. The odds of the GOP leadership having the intestinal fortitude to try it are even smaller. But at this point it’s the only reasonable chance left to avoid President Hillary Clinton.