How to Beat Trump? Everyone Stay In!

Carson, Cruz, Kasich and Rubio should all stay in the race.

Honestly, some days I think no one has faith in our undemocratic institutions anymore. All this pearl-clutching over a possible Trump nomination severely underestimates the tyranny of our political parties. Since the early 1800s, political parties have controlled the presidential nominating process, giving us two options like a parent giving a kid the "choice" between spinach or brussels sprouts. The fact that we even get to vote in the primaries at all is a gift so graciously bestowed upon us by mom and dad so we won't throw a fit. (See the 1968 Democratic Convention.) Want proof? This year Republicans in Colorado, North Dakota and Wyoming aren't even having an election -- neither a primary nor a caucus -- because the state parties decided against it. "Aren't they disenfranchising people?" asked my husband. He's adorable. The party giveth and the party taketh away.

Bernie Sanders supporters, many of whom are getting their first whiff of primary politics, are also learning that it smells like Team Spirit. Team Democratic Party Spirit, that is -- with the extra scent of 717 superdelegates to guard against Sanders. But the Republican presidential primary process has it's own baked in way of keeping things under control when voters get out of hand. You just wait till your Father gets home.

Because far away from all the lights and cameras of primary or caucus day, an army is forming and it is stronger than voters, stronger than Trump, stronger than democracy. It is the army of delegates. GOP All That You Can GOP!

You may be thinking that the hearts and minds of delegates don't matter because they are simply flesh envelopes who contain the votes mandated by primary or caucus election results to the convention. It is true that drinking, backslapping and voting (in that order) are often the extent of delegates' official duties. But this year, Trump threatens to drain the party patience pond, revealing on the muddy floor a weapon that has heretofore been unused.

Here is how it works: if no single candidate gets a majority of the delegate votes in the first round of voting, about a thousand delegates are unbound and free start voting however they want. After two rounds of fruitless voting, another 500 delegates are unbound. Remember that only 1237 delegates are needed to win.

Yes, all the delegates that voters thought they were sending to vote for Donald Trump are now eating steak with Ted Cruz and flirting with Marco Rubio because after a single juggernaut, delegates are running the asylum. What happens then? Anything. Including an anyone-but-Trump block that coalesces around another person like Marco Rubio. Or Paul Ryan. Or Beyonce. "Okay delegates, let's get in formation!" (The nominee need not have been on any primary ballot.)

So listen up all candidates not named Donald Trump! To win, you gotta do two things: first, keep Trump from getting a majority of delegates before the convention so the first round of voting is a bust. It won't be easy. He's killing y'all in pretty much every state. Sad. The best way to do that right now is to keep splitting up the votes. If Carson drops out, some of his votes will go to Rubio and Cruz, but some could go to Trump, too. Same with any other candidate. Let's be honest, neither Cruz or Rubio is going to drop out, Carson is doubling down and even Kasich has said he ain't leaving before he gets a bag of Ohio delegates on March 15. The dream of a majority coalescing around one non-Trump candidate is over for now -- it has moved to the convention.

Right now Trump has about a 30-35 percent ceiling, so giving him more voters can push him past 50 percent in some places. In 17 states (plus Puerto Rico) the delegates are distributed proportionally unless one candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote. In these elections, if one candidate gets a majority, they get the whole enchildelegates. Trump has 82 delegate votes now, and needs 1155 to win in the first round at the convention. About 790 delegates are left to be awarded to candidates who in a a majority of the vote and to keep Trump from getting all of them, you've got to prevent him from getting to that 50 percent threshold. (And anyway, that's about the best you can do because winning outright is generally not an option.)

Second, you have to make sure that your supporters are the delegates so that when they are finally free from the shackles of representation, they can vote for you. In some states, the Republican presidential candidates themselves get to pick or approve delegates, but those loyalists number less than 600. The rest are not. About 200 delegates are party officials or picked by party officials. The other 1700 or so delegates are elected at local or state conventions. Who are these convention electeds? Usually, they are party officers, people who volunteer for the party and people who donate money to the party. (Broadly speaking, Trump's despised "establishment.")

Barring a quirk of local law, delegates are not elected at conventions to "match" the candidate they will be voting for. Conventions are popularity contests. For example, in 2012, Mitt Romney won the Massachusetts primary but then 16 Ron Paul supporters got themselves elected to be delegates. Much like Clint Eastwood's speech, it was weird and embarrassing for Romney, but it also illustrates the potential for disconnect between the candidate chosen by voters and personal desires of the delegates.

Trump's troops are rumored to be less than strategically organized to mobilize voters to be delegates. For the other candidates, then, there is a perfect opportunity to show your preparedness to be Commander in Chief by deploying your campaign boots (or sensible walking shoes) on the ground in every district, county, local and state convention in the 44 states that elect all or some of their delegates at conventions.

Trump talks a lot about building a barrier on the border with Mexico. But, with a little elbow grease by the candidates, GOP delegates can create the Great Wall of Cleveland.