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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

GOP Rank-and-File Really Hate Idea of a Dark Horse Nominee

As the Republican presidential nominating contest lurches into it dog days phase with limited activity but a riot of speculation, there’s still talk of party elites drafting some “unity” figure in Cleveland instead of going with one of the people who are still battling in the primaries. But as I noted at New York this week, the polls are showing that actual Republican voters really hate the idea:

Greg Sargent of the Washington Post

to two emphatic data points:

A new Bloomberg Politics poll finds that 63 percent of Republican voters nationwide think that the winner of the most delegates should get the GOP nomination, even if he does not win an outright majority. Only 33 percent say the delegates at a contested convention should pick the nominee instead …
[A] CNN poll earlier this week … found that by 60-38, Republican voters think the candidate with the most delegates should get the nomination, even without a majority.

As Sargent notes, both polls also showed Trump losing to Hillary Clinton in a general election, which will be the party elites’ excuse for taking over the nomination process if they can — and if they dare.
But they could be courting disaster if they do so. An even more emphatic indicator of rank-and-file antipathy to a bossed convention comes from a HuffPost/YouGov survey, which shows only 16 percent of self-identified Republicans and leaners being “satisfied” with a nominee chosen from outside the current field, while the idea makes 55 percent angry. The second-worst idea, respondents to the survey say, would be to nominate John Kasich, the closest thing to an acceptable-to-the-Establishment candidate left in the field and the brandisher of many a general-election poll. Seems Republicans who keep passing up opportunities to vote for Kasich may mean it.
There is, of course, more than a little irony in the insistence of Republican voters on intra-party democracy. This is, after all, the party that’s busy creating potholes in the path to the ballot box anywhere it can. And you could make the argument that latter-day “constitutional conservatism” is all about creating iron-clad protections for conservative governing models (and the interests that benefit from them) against popular majorities acting through Congress or the presidency to enact progressive policies. There’s very significant support among conservative activists for repealing the 17th Amendment to take away direct election of U.S. senators in favor of returning the privilege to state legislators.
In that context, this sort of opinion expressed by North Dakota RNC member Curly Haugland isn’t so surprising:

“Do the primaries choose a nominee or do the convention delegates?” he asked. “It can’t be both.” “Democracy is pretty popular,” he added, “but it’s simply not the way we do it.”

I suspect party leaders like Haugland are in the process of finding out that Republicans want democracy for themselves even if they are occasionally willing to deny it to those people who are presumed to want to live off the hard work of virtuous older white people, or murder their own babies, or force bakers of conscience to create same-sex-wedding cakes. And a “brokered convention” that ignores this sentiment may soon find those sunny general-election polls showing some non-Trump or non-Cruz candidate winning may be premature.

Trump may well win the nomination decisively on June 7 in California and New Jersey and make it all moot. But if not, GOP elites would probably be prudent to let either Trump or Cruz win the nomination after a good vicious fight in Cleveland. Sure, they might be general election losers, but they’re what voters chose from a vast field. It’s not like they didn’t have options.

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