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Cross-party defections likely if Trump gets GOP nomination

Now that Donald Trump is the likely presidential nominee for the Republican Party in 2016, there are many questions that are interesting to consider regarding the Republican convention set for July 18-21 in Cleveland.

If Trump has enough delegates to win the GOP nomination on the first ballot — and there is a good chance that he will — he will enter the convention as the head of the Republican Party. This means that he will control the flow and organization of the convention, as well as the list of speakers.

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We can probably guess that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christi will be a speaker. I'm sure readers can think of several more probable speakers, such as former Alaska Gov. Sara Palin. But the real question is not who will be on stage to endorse Trump, but who will not be on stage or even attend the convention.

Does anyone think that a member of the Bush family will attend? Can anyone imagine Sen. John McCain or Mitt Romney attending? It now seems unlikely that the three previous Republican nominees for president would want to attend their party's convention to support Trump as their party's nominee.

There is some talk that a group of Republicans will finance an independent run to siphon off votes for Trump in the general election? While this will ensure a victory for Hillary Clinton, the probable Democratic nominee, some are suggesting that a Clinton administration would be better for the Republican Party than four years of Trump. History shows that the party out of the White House performs well in off-cycle elections as the GOP has demonstrated during the past seven years of the Obama administration. With Trump in the White House, however, Democrats would likely take over the House and Senate in the 2018 midterm elections, if they don't in 2016 with Trump at the top of the ticket.

A more immediate question is how many moderate Republicans will stay home in November or actually cast their votes for Hillary Clinton. Nate Silver, of FiveThirtyEight, looked at the history of cross-party voting and predicts that a Trump candidacy that has attacked three previous Republican nominees (Mitt Romney, John McCain and George W. Bush) will see a spike in cross-party voting in November.

Silver cites examples of Democrats and Republicans deserting their party nominee when out-of-the-mainstream candidates are nominated. "In 1972," writes Silver, "about a third of Democrats voted for Richard Nixon rather than George McGovern, who won the Democratic nomination despite getting only about a quarter of the popular vote during the primaries. The 1964 Republican nomination of Barry Goldwater produced quite a few defections."

Some cross-party voting is not unusual and, as demonstrated by Obama in 2008, does not mean that a candidate cannot win. A Trump candidacy, however, may result in a significant Republican revolt to either stay home or to vote for another candidate, even if it means a write-in candidate, which some Republicans are now suggesting.

History shows that candidates who win primary victories with only a plurality of votes, as Trump has, see greater cross-party defections during the general election. Remember, about 65 percent of Republicans have voted for alternative candidates to Trump during this primary cycle. How many of them will decide to vote for him as the eventual nominee? As stated by Silver, "the degree of party unity during the primaries is one of the better historical predictors of the November outcome."

History also shows that the nominating convention influences party loyalty and cross-party voting. Silver again cites the "Democrats' tumultuous nominating process in 1968 and the 1964 nomination of Barry Goldwater. Both of these nominating conventions were considered an embarrassment to their perspective political parties and turned off many party loyalists."

A nominating convention with Trump as the main act will be quite a show.

Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. He is 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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