One thing that unites many supporters of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz is the suspicion that party elders might try to hand the Republican presidential nomination to another candidate if neither Trump nor Cruz arrives in Cleveland with the 1,237 delegates required to win.
Important voices in the conservative world have voiced such concerns. Rush Limbaugh, for one, has speculated that the Republican establishment will try to "install whoever they want" at a contested convention. (Limbaugh guessed such a final choice might be Jeb Bush or Paul Ryan.)
Now Karl Rove, a man many view as the physical embodiment of the establishment, has poured gallons of fuel on the Republican fire. Appearing on Hugh Hewitt's radio show Thursday evening, Rove said a "fresh face" chosen at the convention might turn the GOP's fortunes around and win in November.
Hewitt asked Rove, "Who is the most electable Republican ... of the people who could be available to run?" All the current candidates have their problems, Rove answered. But there might be an outsider with just the right combination of attributes who could lead Republicans to victory:
If we have somebody who we think has, has been battle-tested, and has strong conservative principles and the ability to articulate them, and they are nominated at this convention, there will be a lot of acrimony from the people who were seeking the nomination. But if it's somebody who has, you know, has those convictions that they can express in a compelling way, we could come out of the convention in relatively strong position ... And a fresh face might be the thing that could give us a chance to turn this election and win in November against Hillary.
Rove's suggestion — he never named any names — blew up Twitter Thursday night, with many Trump and Cruz supporters expressing outrage. But Rove is not the only one contemplating, or at least open to, a non-Trump, non-Cruz nominee.
As it happened, I had a conversation Thursday afternoon with Milwaukee conservative radio host Charlie Sykes, who has played a leading role — perhaps the leading role — in the #NeverTrump movement in the days leading up to Tuesday's Wisconsin primary. I asked Sykes whether the GOP nominee has to be someone for whom people actually voted in the 2016 primaries and caucuses.
"It's got to go to an open convention," Sykes told me. "What I want to see is [Trump] to come in with fewer than 1,200 votes. If he doesn't win on the first ballot, there's no way he wins the nomination. And frankly, anything that happens after that, I'm fine with."
"Does it have to be Cruz for you?"
"No, absolutely not."
"Does it have to be a candidate that people have voted for in this primary season?"
"No. Look, at this point, there are no good options. There's no scenario in which you go, well that's fantastic. They're all sort of less bad. It's going to be messy no matter what. I don't see any easy exit here. But nothing is as bad as nominating Donald Trump."
After word of Rove's statement came out, another radio host, Atlanta's Michael Graham, agreed with Rove. "If US wakes up Tues after Labor Day w/a sane, likable GOP ticket vs Hillary, nobody will care re: process," Graham tweeted Thursday.