The Plot to Stop Donald Trump

The latest effort focuses on changing the rules of the Republican National Convention to let delegates vote for other candidates—but seems unlikely to succeed.

Darren Hauck / Reuters

The latest effort to stop Donald Trump comes 366 days late and at least a dollar short. Ed O’Keefe reports in The Washington Post:

Dozens of Republican convention delegates are hatching a new plan to block Donald Trump at this summer’s party meetings, in what has become the most organized effort so far to stop the businessman from becoming the GOP nominee.

Dozens! Out of the 2,472 total! This should be right in the nick of time.

Perhaps that’s too snarky. O’Keefe notes, “The new campaign is being run by the only people who can actually make changes to party rules, rather than by pundits and media figures who have been pining for a Trump alternative.” Even with that difference, it’s hard to put much stock in this.

For one thing, there’s a legacy of failed pushes to stop Trump—each trumpeted as the one that would finally take him out. There was National Review’s symposium of sharp-minded scribblers; the magazine even declared victory after Trump lost the Iowa caucus:

The rest is history.

Before that, there was Katie Packer’s Our Principles PAC, which recruited heavy-hitting donors. There was the fervent belief that there would be a contested convention where Trump could be stopped. There was Liz Mair’s Make America Awesome PAC, which succeeded in drawing Trump into an unwise attack on Heidi Cruz but barely blunted his momentum in the primary. There was the truce between John Kasich and Ted Cruz, in which they split up the map so as best to stop Trump, which lasted less than 12 hours before falling apart. More recently, there was Bill Kristol’s vow to recruit a third-party candidate, which failed to attract either a boldface name like Mitt Romney or a respected but obscure one like David French. (So far!)

What the newest effort gains in terms of ability (in theory, at least) to change the rules at the convention, it loses in terms of lateness. The time for stopping Trump was months ago—not now, with a month to go before the convention and Trump having won a majority of delegates and a wide plurality of primary votes. Now trying to replace him will require a clear contravention of the will of Republican voters, and huge violations of protocol. If people think the primary showed the anger of GOP voters toward the GOP establishment, just think what will happen if organizers at the convention use procedural hijinks to try to throw Trump over.

The other problem is that, like Kristol, these delegates have no one to crown as a savior. Paul Ryan, once the name commonly mentioned as a white knight, has gone off and endorsed Trump, which makes him an even more remote possibility. As Cook Political’s Amy Walter wrote this week, trying to kill the idea of a dump-Trump campaign once and for all:

More important, as I have written many times before, an “Anti-Trump” campaign can’t succeed without a “Pro-Another Candidate” to replace him. The most obvious choices to oust Trump at the convention – Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz – have said they aren’t interested in putting up a fight. Leaders of the #NeverTrump movement have failed to produce a third-party option. You can’t have a coup without a replacement. Period.

As with the effort to draft David French, it’s probably unfair to judge the supporters on the basis of how plausible the campaign is. The goal of nominating someone like French was to give conservatives who refused to vote for Trump but couldn’t stomach voting for Hillary Clinton a candidate who they could be proud to support—even if his chances of winning were effectively nil. That’s probably the best argument for an attempt to defeat Trump at the convention, too: not that it’s likely to work, but that it gives Trump’s opponents the chance to vote their conscience and say they did everything they could.

At this juncture, there are only two obvious people who can stop Donald Trump. One is Trump, who could either for some reason drop out of the race rather than face defeat, or else so thoroughly alienate his party by some statement or deed that there was a groundswell to dump him. But that would require much more than a few delegates scheming over rules and procedures. It would require a full-scale rebellion. (In fact, “rebels” is just how Trump referred to his intraparty detractors in an interview with The New York Times.) The second is Hillary Clinton, who currently leads him in polling. She of course remains unpalatable to most Republicans—though a few have started to hold their noses and go for it.