Tonight’s primary results could be among the most important for the Republican field so far. And the anti-Trump camp has made it clear that their best hope to prevent Donald Trump from winning the nomination is depriving him of delegates necessary to win it on the first ballot — all of that could change should Trump take the winner-take-all states of Florida and Ohio.
With 358 delegates up for grabs, including 165 between Florida and Ohio, tonight’s primaries are perhaps a last ditch effort by the establishment to stop Trump, since Texas Senator Ted Cruz has made himself friendless among Republicans. Unfortunately, the latest polls show Trump commanding a significant double digit lead versus Marco Rubio in his home state. Ohio’s Governor John Kasich is doing better in his home state, leading the pack by single digits. But even there its uncertain whether he will win, given that Trump has led polls in the state for months.
“The plan is to win Ohio, and some other states, and if that happens, nobody is going to have enough delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot,” said John Weaver, Kasich’s chief campaign strategist, to the Huffington Post. If Kasich were to lose Ohio, it would quickly scuttle any future campaign plans he may have had. As it is, Kasich is struggling to get onto the Pennsylvania ballot and is currently facing a court challenge in the state. But at least the polls have him ahead, even marginally, in his home state.
The same cannot be said of Rubio, who is far behind Trump in the polls. But his campaign still articulated a similar strategy shortly following his fifth place finish in the New Hampshire primary in February. “I don’t think it necessarily is negative,” Rubio said to the Associated Press, when asked about the possibility of a brokered convention. The hope is that slowing Trump’s momentum by depriving him of an outright victory would be enough to hold a brokered convention, allowing the Republican establishment to retake control of the nominatng campaign. During a brokered convention, delegates are no longer beholden to their voting district’s decision.
If a brokered convention were held, it would be the first time in a generation. That also explains the reluctance some in the party have expressed in reaction to the #NeverTrump plan. Dick Morris, once an advisor to Bill Clinton turned a Tea Party Republican, published a letter admonishing voters to support Cruz over Rubio and Kasich, not only because he has emerged as the only serious challenger to Trump, but because the party won’t settle a brokered convention quickly.
“The Republican Party does not have the superstructure to resolve a convention deadlock. There are no more bosses. The state party leaders are largely impotent. The party lacks elder statesmen,” he said in a piece published on Newsmax. He predicted that failing to resolve the leadership crisis on first ballot would condemn the Republican Party to total destruction and defeat at the hands of the Democrats in November. “The fissure would rip the party apart and its impact would be to create such bitterness that it couldn’t come together in time to beat Hillary.”
Meanwhile, top conservative strategists planned to meet in the capital on Thursday to discuss the possibility of a third-party run should Trump win the nomination. The planned meeting was only the latest among a series of meetings by the wealthy and powerful attempting to stop Trump.
How well voters responds to behind the scene machinations by establishment Republicans remains to be seen, but it’s likely that Trump will use it to prove that the establishment is out to stop him, which always plays well with his supporters.