Donald Trump and his backers want to redefine mathematics, and have the GOP nomination handed to him with a plurality of delegates, rather than a majority, being sufficient.
This Wednesday, Trump infamously told CNN: “I think we’ll win before getting to the convention, but if we didn’t and we’re 20 votes short, or we’re, you know, a hundred short, and we’re at 1,100 and somebody else is at 500 or 400, ’cause we’re way ahead of everybody, I don’t think you can say we don’t get it automatically. I think you’d have riots.” Trump added that “if you disenfranchise those people . . . I think you would have problems like you’ve never seen before.”
Nor is Trump alone. Scottie Nell Hughes, a surrogate for the campaign, had this to say to Wolf Blitzer of CNN: “The majority, the plurality, the people, the majority of the population have voted for Mr. Trump. . . . So you know, riots aren’t necessarily a bad thing if it means we’re fighting the fact that our establishment Republican party has gone corrupt and decided to ignore the voice of the people and ignore the process.”
The message to GOP delegates: Do as Trump says or it would be a shame if something happened to this nice party of yours. No self-respecting party can cave into such demands.
The Republican party has held 39 national conventions since its first in 1856. At each and every one, a majority of delegates was needed for someone to get the nomination. Abraham Lincoln won on the third ballot in 1860, even though rival William Seward captured a plurality, 41.5 percent, of the delegates on the first ballot. The reason only trivia geeks remember John Sherman, Leonard Wood, or Frank Lowden is that while those men entered their GOP conventions with a clear plurality of delegates, they fell short of a majority, and lost to another candidate on a later ballot.
Steve Moore, a friend of mine who works at the Heritage Foundation, is angry at what he has called the establishment’s strategy to “steal the election from Trump at the convention.” He claims that requiring a majority would be disenfranchising millions of new Republican voters and that “this is still a democracy and, sorry, the rules are still ‘One person, one vote.’”
#share#But the Founding Fathers gave us a republic, not a pure democracy, and rules limiting the democracy are common. As Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics points out, our Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate to ratify treaties, a president can’t be elected without a majority of the Electoral College, and constitutional amendments can be ratified only after three-quarter of the states agree.
Trump forces are also ignoring the fact they often benefit from primary rules that could be mischaracterized as “disenfranching” voters. Take South Carolina, where Trump won only 32 percent of the vote but, because he won each of the state’s congressional districts in a divided field, he won all 50 delegates. Two-thirds of the voters cast ballots for candidates who won zero delegates, which by Trumpian logic means they that they were “disenfranchised.”
Should Trump not win the required majority of 1,237 delegates on the first ballot, the rules are that most of the delegates pledged to him are then free to vote for someone else. There may be good reason for delegates to consider doing that. Ted Cruz and John Kasich lead Hillary Clinton in the RealClearPolitics average of general-election polls. Trump trails her by 6.3 percentage points, and the gap is rising.
#related#The most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows, for example, that Cruz outperforms Trump among women (Hillary wins women by 14 points against Cruz, but by 27 points against Trump), white voters (Cruz carries them by 15 points, Trump wins them by just 4 points), and older voters (Cruz loses those 65 and older by 4 points to Clinton, while Trump loses them by 13 points).
Donald Trump might well wind up with a majority of delegates when the GOP convention is gaveled to order in Cleveland in July. But if he falls short, he has no entitlement to the nomination or the right to tear up rules that have been in place since Lincoln’s day. His recent hints that his supporters would turn violent if they don’t get their way are more befitting the leader of a mob than a presidential candidate who claims he wants to unify the Republican party.