The Republican Party's establishment wing has become desperate in their search for an alternate presidential candidate that can block Donald Trump from becoming its nominee. Last weekend political and corporation big shots met secretly at Sea Island, Georgia, trying to figure a way to stop him. Two days earlier twice-failed presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave a slashing anti-Trump speech in his late ditch effort to halt Trump's momentum.
It's now clear that neither the Mitt pitch nor the Georgia resort's retorts eased the establishment's predicament. Instead, they emboldened the New York billionaire's supporters and gave an unanticipated boost to rival candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, who's anathema to many Republican as well as Democratic colleagues. After Saturday's split decisions in Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and Maine, Trump won big Tuesday night in Hawaii, Michigan and Mississippi. His competitors remain distant runner-ups.
So the Grand Old Party is split asunder. After its most recent debates and primary/caucus results, it's still uncertain who will emerge as its 2016 standard bearer. Three weeks ago Sen. Marco Rubio was widely considered to have the best chance of halting the Trump steamroller, but his dismal performances in the last two debates accompanied by only one win and multiple third place or worse finishes on Super Tuesday, Saturday and this week represent a significant fall from grace. Rubio may lead Trump in only one category -- the race to the bottom in throwing personal raunchy one-liners.
The fractured party has been unable to settle on any of the original seventeen candidates that it considered conservative and electable (with the possible exception of the now-deflated Rubio.) Since Romney and Sea Island did not aid the establishment's goal of finding a conservative whom it believes would appeal to moderates and independents in the general election, their search for an alternate is frantic. Maybe they can ponder a pursuit of the ghost of Harold Stassen, that old perennial GOP candidate who offered himself nine times between 1948 and 1993!
Should the Donald fail to secure a lock on the 1237 delegate majority before this summer's convention, his campaign will face a continuing desperate effort by the party's elite to deny him the prize; they're both furious and panicked that a nominated Trump would not only cost them the presidency, but would seriously jeopardize down-ballot candidates for Senate, House and other state-wide contests.
If he reaches the convention with a plurality but less than a majority, it's possible that a candidate pushed by the party's elite could survive the four-day exercise, carry that banner and occupy the inside path to being selected as America's 45th president.
But a Republican Party that rejects Donald Trump after he had led the entire field by substantial margins for almost a year could stimulate a seismic political revolt leading to a third party campaign. Trumpites would legitimately complain that the nomination had been stolen from him.
Be ready for the third party run of Donald Trump!
Yet a potential third party candidacy is not exclusively a Trump contingency. Among the fractured party's establishment insiders, there's now scattered talk of running a third candidate if Trump does secure a convention majority.
Either way, a three-way battle in November's general election is a distinct possibility; it would likely assure that a Republican nominee will be inaugurated on January 20.
A multiparty battle featuring strong candidates such as Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump (or Cruz who is now running second in the GOP race) and an establishment Republican could create a split that would deny an electoral majority to any of them. Enter the Constitution's Twelfth Amendment which stipulates that the House of Representatives chooses the president by a majority vote of its state delegations, meaning that each delegation would have one vote regardless of the number of representatives in the delegation. Since Republicans control 33 of the delegations and are destined to not lose control, they would choose the Republican candidate.
It's not far-fetched. In 1968 Richard Nixon barely secured a majority of the Electoral College, 301-191-46, in a three-way race over Vice President Hubert Humphrey and former segregationist Governor George Wallace of Alabama. There were deep fissures within the Democratic Party. With the Vietnam War eating at the fabric of the country, the party was split between President Lyndon Johnson's backers and anti-war Democrats. The Democratic National Convention nominated Humphrey after he had been challenged earlier that year by Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy; both were vehemently opposed to the war.
Anti-war Democrats' resentment against the Johnson-Humphrey administration was carried into the general election campaign. The party's split was exemplified in California where two leading Democratic officials, Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh and National Committeewoman Adele Leopold, declined to actively support the Humphrey-Muskie ticket. Lacking that committed support, Humphrey lost California's 40 electoral votes by about ten votes per precinct. If the highly influential Unruh and Leopold had campaigned for the Democratic standard bearer, the state might well have been delivered to Humphrey, and that delivery alone would have brought the Nixon-Humphrey-Wallace electoral count to 261-231-46, thus denying Nixon a majority. The Democratic House would have chosen Humphrey in early 1969, and the whole course of history would have been different: no Nixon presidency, no Watergate scandal, no forced presidential resignation.
Now for this year's wild card that eludes current political discussion: we may get a Republican president and a Democratic vice-president because the Twelfth Amendment also mandates that the vice-president be chosen by the Senate if no candidate received a majority of that contest's electoral votes. While Republicans maintain dominance among House delegations, it's generally acknowledged that Democrats have a good chance of retaking the Senate since many incumbent Republicans are vulnerable this year. That's a GOP nightmare. If the election goes to Congress, the new Senate of 2017 will have that vice-presidential vote, and it will be decided by a majority of the senators, not its state delegations. If a Democratic Senate chooses the vice-president, he or she will be a Democrat who will serve alongside a Republican president. It would be a historic first!
Over time the Democratic Party managed to survive its internecine strife of the late 1960s. There's no assurance that today's Republican Party, far removed from truly representing the party of Abraham Lincoln, will be able to do the same. The GOP may reject infrastructure spending now, but they'll need its likes to rebuild their party.