"If you were to devise a plan to stop a runaway nominee," Republican superlawyer Ben Ginsberg said on MSNBC Tuesday night, "you would have to do a lot of state-by-state organizing, win the delegates at the convention."
In the late hours of election night — a night in which Donald Trump won seven of 11 Super Tuesday contests — Ginsberg, who knows as much about such matters as anyone in the GOP, offered a clinic on how to stop the front-runner. The first step, he said, would be to slow Trump down at the ballot box in the March 15 winner-take-all elections in Florida, Ohio and elsewhere. "You've got to do a lot electorally in the next two weeks," Ginsberg said. "March 15 is kind of cutoff day."
If the non-Trump candidates, specifically Florida's Marco Rubio and Ohio's John Kasich, were able to win their home states, they might amass enough delegates to keep Trump short of the 1,237 delegates required to clinch the nomination.
But what happens if neither, or even just one, can beat Trump? "Then, if you care deeply about where the party goes," Ginsberg said, "you get into the rules a little bit."
Ginsberg explained that 73 percent of the delegates at the GOP convention "are chosen at state conventions or by state party executive committees with little or no input from the candidate who wins that state." Those delegates are bound, on the convention's first ballot, to vote for the presidential candidate chosen by their state's voters. But they're not bound to do so on subsequent ballots. And even on the first ballot, they're not bound to vote in the candidate's interest on rules issues, credentials challenges, or other questions that can loom large in the arcane proceedings of the convention.
"So if you were to devise a plan to stop a runaway nominee," Ginsberg said, "you would have to do a lot of state-by-state organizing, win the delegates at the convention."
NBC's Chuck Todd noted that Ginsberg's plan wasn't designed to win the nomination for any one candidate — just to keep Trump from getting it. "This is a two-week sprint to deny Trump delegates," Todd said to Ginsberg. "This is no longer about trying to beat Trump, it's just simply to deny Trump a majority of delegates at the convention. This is where we're at tonight."
"Yes, I think that is realistically where you are tonight, given the delegate spreads," Ginsberg said.
NBC's Brian Williams noted that such a rules maneuver would anger Trump supporters. After all, their candidate, in this scenario, would have the most votes — not a majority of convention delegates, but a plurality. Ginsberg responded by conceding that Trump "has done a lot to expand the Republican base." But, Ginsberg continued, "If he has to expand that electorate by talking about, or not repudiating, the KKK and David Duke, then that's a very different calculation."
Ginsberg's words suggest the degree to which the Duke/KKK issue could serve as the basis for GOP establishment action against Trump. There is genuine outrage at Trump's refusal to repeat his earlier disavowals of Duke and the KKK. Of course, the race issue also gives Republican insiders a moral rationale to do what they already wanted to do.
Ginsberg noted that the anti-Trump maneuver could create chaos at the convention, which might be a big advantage for the anti-Trump forces. "If you get into a contested convention situation, a contested convention has a mindset of its own," Ginsberg said. "It does not necessarily bear any resemblance to the rational world. And so, in that context, avid supporters who understand the rules and know how to build coalitions in chaotic situations can sometimes achieve results that you would not predict."
The NBC crew appeared both fascinated and slightly aghast at the anti-democratic premise of Ginsberg's presentation. "You'd be disenfranchising a sizable movement," Brian Williams said to Ginsberg.
Ginsberg didn't exactly say no. Nor did he want to say who, exactly, would be behind such a gambit, if it were to come to pass. But he pointed out the many, many years it has been since a candidate came to a convention having failed to win the number of delegates required for the nomination. If Trump does that this time, he would be "a historically weak front-runner," Ginsberg said, and vulnerable to attack. Of course, if Trump had a plurality of delegates, that would mean that the other candidates were historically weaker.
Ginsberg, who has been thinking about the convention scenario for quite a while — he laid it out in a Wall Street Journal piece in December — described the whole scenario as highly unlikely. "What I'm describing is the equivalent of a triple bank shot," he said. But just because it's unlikely does not mean frustrated Republican establishment types won't try it, if Trump is vulnerable.