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Some establishment candidates must drop out for GOP to overcome Trump

While Donald Trump is leading in the polls for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, his success has been exaggerated by the fact that there are so many candidates splitting the non-Trump vote. In the most recent Real Clear Politics averages for the GOP presidential nomination, Trump gets the nod of 35 percent of those polled. The 65 percent of the voters polled, meanwhile, are supporting someone else. These non-Trump votes, however, are distributed among a dozen other candidates.

The GOP establishment could help themselves by convincing most of their candidates to follow South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham's lead and drop out of a race they can't win. Sen. Marco Rubio would be the primary benefactor of this strategy. A contest between Trump and Rubio might boost Rubio who, I believe, is best positioned to beat the eventual Democratic nominee, former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, in the fall.

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In looking at polling averages thus far, Rubio is the only GOP candidate who is consistently competitive against Clinton. Trump, on the other hand, is averaging about 5 points behind Clinton in the latest Real Clear Politics data.

Some people believe that former Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, could serve as the party's white knight at a brokered GOP convention, preventing Trump from becoming the GOP nominee. But there are two significant challenges to this strategy. First, if the GOP field remains at 10 or more candidates, Trump will win most of the GOP primary elections, even with less than 50 percent of the vote. By convention time, he will have the nomination locked-up.

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Second, if the GOP pulled a fast one on Trump at the convention and brought Romney in at the last minute, you can bet the house that Trump would form a third party and split the Republican vote in November.

Another option talked about within GOP circles is that an endorsement by Romney for Rubio, Bush or Christie, especially in a place like New Hampshire where Romney has significant support, would boost their campaigns. While I can see Romney endorsing a candidate, perhaps before the New Hampshire primary, I don't think his influence is strong enough to sway many voters, and definitely not Trump supporters.

For Rubio to win the GOP nomination, all the other establishment candidates would need to drop out soon. If Rubio could attract the supporters of these candidates, he would be somewhat competitive against Trump. But this is a steep climb for Rubio. Together, Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz are polling around 55 percent of the GOP vote. There just may not be enough votes left over for Rubio to win.

So, what happens if Trump is nominated at the GOP convention? All the candidates have taken an oath to support the party's eventual nominee. And while this may be their line for now, all bets are off if and when Trump actually becomes the nominee. In 1964, a candidate named Sen. Barry Goldwater became the GOP nominee for president. Like Trump, Goldwater was considered a radical nominee at the time who did not have the support of establishment Republicans. Once Goldwater won the nomination, many of his party's leaders refused to endorse him or campaign for him. He lost in a landslide.

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Would establishment Republicans get behind Trump as their party's nominee? Many will find it difficult to do so. There are too many recordings of them making derogatory comments about Trump that Democrats will play over and over during the general election. Also, many establishment Republicans are unlikely to associate their brand and future legacy with a candidate as unpredictable and flammable as Trump.

Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. He is the Laurence J. Adams endowed chair in special education and coordinator of the human services management graduate program at McDaniel College. His column appears on Wednesdays. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.

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