The Republican Trump Dilemma

It is unlikely that Donald Trump will arrive at the Republican convention with the 1,237 delegates necessary for him to win the nomination on the first ballot. Republican leaders and delegates will face the dilemma of whether to choose Trump anyway or try to go with another candidate. Based on my background with Mr. Trump, here is what I believe will happen and why.

I have had the opportunity to know Donald Trump over the more than 34 years since my business partner, Howard Weingrow, and I first made a deal with him to turn over the development we had been assembling to build a hotel-casino in Atlantic City and become a lessor for his first hotel casino -- the Trump Plaza Hotel. He was so new to the casino business at that time that his father Fred, who was present at the closing of the deal, asked me a number of times during the closing "Was Donald making a good deal?" That landlord-tenant relationship has lasted many years. The property was part of bankruptcy filings in 2004, 2009 and 2014 and now Carl Icahn has taken control of the lease. During part of the time, my partner lived in the Trump Tower apartment directly below Trump and served on the board of the condominium at Trump's request. He was also an early member of Mar-a-Lago and brought many of his friends in as members. The last time I spoke with Trump, he told me what a terrific deal he had made in acquiring The Ritz Carlton Golf Club -- now the Trump National Golf Club -- in Jupiter, Florida, directly across the road from where I live. I have also known a number of people who have done business with Trump.

When Trump first announced his candidacy, I told anyone who would listen that for him it was a business investment. I was certain that he did not plan to spend a significant amount of his own money in the campaign and that he was building his major asset -- namely the Trump brand. "How many more people, particularly foreign investors," I argued, "would he be able to attract to engage his services as a developer/manager of their properties if they thought he was a serious candidate for President of the United States?" As his campaign gained traction and he began to get voter support, he received enormous media attention, valued by data research firm mediaQuant at about $1.9 billion, which allowed him to continue his campaign without any significant cost to him. Now, pundits tell us that to combat Ted Cruz in California, Trump must spend tens of millions of dollars. I believe he will not spend his own money in such large amounts and will find some rationalization to explain to his supporters why despite his net worth in the billions, he is not doing that. It is possible that may cost him California's large delegation.

Since the advent of Trumps' candidacy I have been interested to see how he will handle the disclosure of his tax returns. From the beginning I have believed that he does not want his returns seen by the public for any number of reasons, including the fact that his are not the tax returns of a person with a net worth of 10 billion dollars. So far, he has been able to avoid making them public, but running for president will put great pressure on him to do so. It may also require him to be more specific about his assets and liabilities, which will provide fodder for those who challenge his self-valuation of ten billion dollars. Nevertheless, I believe that his ego will drive him to seek the nomination and to think that he can figure out some way to handle the tax return and net worth questions once he gets it.

I expect that coming into the Republican National Convention, Trump will have amassed the most delegates but fall short of the 1,237 delegates required for him to win the nomination on the first ballot. Under the Republican rules, if no candidate has the required number of delegates by the end of the first ballot, it becomes a "contested convention" and the delegates are freed up to vote as they choose. Supporters of Cruz and Kasich are counting on this happening with the hope that the party will then turn away from Trump and that their candidate will then be chosen as the party's nominee. Establishment Republicans, who want anyone but Trump, are hoping to convince House Speaker Paul Ryan to accept the mantle of the Republican Party at that time or if that fails, to bring Mitt Romney back, or find another acceptable candidate. In my view, none of them fully appreciate what Donald Trump is prepared to do to secure the nomination. Based on my understanding of Donald Trump, he will not go gently into the night. Instead, he will insist that having come into the convention with the most delegates he has earned the party's nomination. Already, he is challenging Cruz's success in adding certain delegates even though Cruz's methods may meet the letter of the rules, as unfair to Trump and his supporters. The negotiations at the convention will rival any negotiation that Trump has referred to in his book The Art of the Deal for their intensity, cajoling, anger and threats. The starting point will be Mr. Trump's assertion that if he doesn't get the nomination he will start a third party, or in some other way convince the millions of Republicans who voted for him in the campaign to abandon the Republican Party. Whether it is Reince Priebus, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, or any of the party leaders negotiating against him, they should recognize at the outset that any argument based on his allegiance to the Republican Party and concern about what a bruising fight would do to its future will have no traction. Trump doesn't care a whit about the Republican Party or its future.

Nor, is there any role in the future government they can offer him that will convince him to back off. He won't believe that they will win without him, or that they will live up to their word and deliver and there is probably no other position that he wants after having tasted what being a President feels like.

So, they will have to decide whether or not he is bluffing. To be sure, it is difficult for Trump to become an effective third party candidate at this stage and meet the registration requirements of various state ballot access laws. And if Trump doesn't want to spend his own money, it might be a less effective candidacy, unless, of course, he does what he has been doing until now, which is to get huge media coverage. So, the dilemma whether to go with Trump or seek another candidate will depend on their appraisal of which course will do more damage to the party in this election and which course will inflict greater damage on the party for the future. In these circumstances, it is very doubtful that Paul Ryan would want to fall on his sword and hurt his opportunity as a future presidential candidate at this stage of his career by running against both a Democrat and an angry Trump. Mitt Romney lost once before and for the party to go through such pain to run Ted Cruz or John Kasich may not be that appealing. At the end of the negotiation, despite all the opposition, Trump may well prevail and be the Republican Party candidate.

Robert K. Lifton was president of the American Jewish Congress, a founder, president and now board member of the Israel Policy Forum and co-chair of the Middle East Project of the Council on Foreign Relations. His memoirs, titled "An Entrepreneur's Journey: Stories From A Life In Business And Personal Diplomacy," have been published by AuthorHouse.