April 16, 2016 by Thomas Hauber
When House Speaker Paul Ryan took to the podium last week in a hastily-called news conference to “once and for all” disavow his candidacy for the Presidential nomination, at least one pundit thought Ryan was looking “Presidential.” Among the things Ryan was trying to do was stem the growing panic in his own party over the prospect of a wild and wooly Republican Convention that would steal the nomination from front-runner Donald Trump and possibly erupt into a Texas-style range war on the convention floor. The wheels had come off the party long ago and panic was setting in.
Ryan’s “I’m in charge of the Convention” statement reminded me of Secretary of State Alexander Haig’s similar but far sterner and statement following the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan in 1980. The President has just collapsed and Vice President Hebert Walker Bush was on a plane somewhere over Texas. With Defense Secretary Cap Weinberger ready to launch the Fail-Safe force thinking a Communist plot might be afoot, Haig stepped in front of the mic and told everybody things were in control there in Washington, meaning Him. Haig took flak for the statement but it was effective.
Ryan was cool and looking like a Party leader, or maybe even a presidential candidate in 2020 — presumably after the smoke clears. Someone had to pull things back together after Donald Trump had whipped up a frenzy over Ted Cruz’ apparently successful attempts at wooing a number of unbound Colorado delegates despite Trump’s apparent win there. Cruz hopes to deny the Donald a first ballot win opening the door to a free-for-all and the possible entrance of a “white knight” candidate. Ryan said it would not be him and to relax, the Party had rules and he was going to follow them, and by the way, the nominee should come from somebody who actually ran for the nomination.
So-called Open or brokered or contested conventions are not all that common. When no one candidate arrives at the convention with the required number of delegates, serious horse-trading begins, often even before the first ballot vote. This happened several times since 1952 when procedural moves averted a “contested” convention. In the 1976 Republican Convention Gerald Ford maneuvered just enough delegates to force a Ronald Reagan concession before the first ballot. Procedural moves just prior to first ballot voting rescued George McGovern in 1972 from a possible contested Democratic convention.
In one respect Ryan gave tacit approval to the effectiveness of Trump, but the very fact Ryan called his news conference at all was a tacit admission plans were afoot to derail Trump’s run. Trump remains suspicious, screaming the entire election process is rigged. It is in fact, each party and state is free to determine how it’s candidate is nominated, some caucus, some hold voting primaries, some delegates are bound, other not. Trump’s lead is large and his big wins in the northeast may make it all moot. The only serous barrier to Trump’s delegate lead is Ted Cruz, whose appeal is limited, even in his own party. The Party would have to swallow hard to nominate him or Kasich, who still thinks the party will turn to him in a desperate attempt to derail the hopelessly losing proposition of a Trump v. Clinton race.
Hillary is ahead of Trump in any measure of overall popularity and with Clinton’s huge voter registration advantages among Democrats, minorities and women, Trump gets stomped. Cruz does only slightly better and Kasich even beats Clinton in some polls. Go Figure. The least popular Republican candidate in the primaries polls better than the front-runner in the General election. This more than anything reflects the real trouble the Republican Party is in.