After a rocky start to his general-election campaign, a sizable number of GOP insiders want the party to change the rules to short-circuit Donald Trump’s nomination at the July national convention.
Nearly four-in-10 Republican members of The POLITICO Caucus — a panel of activists, operatives and strategists in 10 key states — would like to see changes that could deny Trump the party’s nod after the presumptive nominee began the November campaign without a credible campaign structure, in addition to making a series of erratic and inflammatory comments. Among the comments was a recent suggestion that an American-born judge presiding over a civil suit in which he is a defendant can’t be impartial because of the judge’s Mexican heritage.
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The majority of GOP insiders, a little more than 60 percent, expressed either hesitance or disdain for such an effort. Many warned against overturning the will of the GOP electorate: Trump has won 1,447 bound delegates and has commitments from another 95 unbound delegates — putting him well over the 1,237 needed to clinch the nomination.
But with just six weeks to go until the GOP convention, more than a third want to see the party throw out those rules, unbind the delegates and allow them to choose a different candidate. For many of them, it isn’t as much about winning this year’s election: Trump as the nominee, they believe, represents an existential threat to the party.
“Trump’s continued descent into madness is dragging the GOP down with him,” said a Florida Republican, who like all respondents, completed the survey anonymously. “A convention switchup would be great politics and save the GOP.”
“If the GOP wants to survive, it must find some way to open the rules for abstention, or some other unbinding process so that delegates can save the party from the historic defeat it faces under the banner of Donald Trump,” an Iowa Republican added. “One average teleprompter speech, given this past Tuesday, isn’t going to suddenly change Donald Trump into an aspirational, magnanimous leader. He is what he is: a bully through and through, one that takes the low road at every opportunity. Someone who doesn’t understand or care about policy. And lest we forget, a racist.”
A number of GOP insiders pointed to Trump’s drag on Republicans down the ballot as evidence of the necessity of replacing him with another candidate. Republicans have a four-seat majority in the Senate that would be in jeopardy if the party loses the White House, and the party is looking to maintain most of its larger, more durable majority in the House.
“As a national delegate to the GOP convention I will work to push through any rule necessary to deny Trump the nomination,” a Colorado Republican said. “If he is our nominee, I believe the party will lose races all the way down the ticket. The only way to save the GOP is to have this fight at the convention.”
“Trump will not only lose but will cost us the Senate, maybe the House, and who knows how much in the states,” added New Hampshire Republican said. “We shouldn’t enter a suicide pact with him.”
“It is the only shot we have at saving Senator [Kelly] Ayotte and the Republican Party,” another New Hampshire Republican said.
An Iowa Republican looked even beyond 2016: “With reapportionment just around the corner losing down ballot can have long-term consequences.”
But just as many GOP insiders said maneuvering to deny Trump the nomination after he has earned the requisite number of delegates would be even worse for other Republican candidates.
“Rules are rules, and the blowback from that will do more damage to the down ballot in every state more than we can calculate — more than a massive Trump loss at the top would do,” said a Florida Republican. “We have the ability and means to run separately, but not if rules are changed after he was won the nomination under current rules.”
“Republicans can’t do anything to hurt Trump now without knee-capping our other GOP candidates up and down the ballot,” added a Virginia Republican. “It would be like Coca-Cola admitting that Coke Classic is toxic and expecting it not to hurt the sales of Diet Coke. For better or worse, we’re all in this together now.”
The most significant reason to squash any anti-Trump movement, insiders said, was to avoid alienating his supporters.
“We are screwed either way but more screwed if we ignore the millions of people that voted for him,” said a New Hampshire Republican.
“Look, he won the nomination,” a Virginia Republican added. “Let him have it. But Republicans should have nothing to do with him or his campaign. Walk away. Let him lose, in spectacular fashion, on his own.”
Democrats: Sanders supporters won’t vote for Trump.
Even as Bernie Sanders’ campaign lurches to its inevitable conclusion, Democratic insiders say they aren’t worried that supporters of the Vermont senator will end up voting for Trump over Hillary Clinton in November.
Nine-in-10 Democrats said it was unlikely Sanders’ backers would end up casting ballots for Trump in November.
“There will always be a fringe of True Believers who will either not show up for a nominee they didn’t want or vote out of spite for the opposition, but just because these folks may have a voice online doesn’t make them statistically significant,” said a New Hampshire Democrat.
Added a North Carolina Democrat: “Most Sanders supporters I speak with are committed to defeating Donald Trump.”
While, overall, 90 percent said it was unlikely, only about half of them characterized it as “very unlikely” the Sanders voters would end up supporting Trump. Sanders pledged Thursday “to do everything in my power” to defeat Trump.
“I would estimate this group at no more than 5-to-10 percent of Sanders voters in Pennsylvania,” a Democrat there said.
One Nevada Democrat suggested the animosity there following the raucous state convention last month could mean more Sanders-Trump crossover voters.
“Many Nevada ‘Bernicrats,’ including those currently running for office, have said publicly they will be voting for Trump,” said the Democrat. “Some have said it’s because Trump is better than Clinton, [while] others have said a Trump presidency would ensure the revolution.”
But another Nevada Democrat said those voters represent “a vocal minority.”
“The enraged ‘Bernie or Bust’ supporters might never unite, and unfortunately, they receive most of the attention,” the Nevada Democrat said. “But they are the vocal minority compared to the millions of Bernie supporters who may feel upset that Bernie didn’t win the nomination, but also understand that after the healing process is over they need to join forces to defeat Trump. Even in Nevada where the intra-party fighting hit its peak last month, it’s important to remember that the vitriol displayed at the state convention does not represent the 80,000 Democrats who caucused for Hillary and Bernie on Feb. 20.”
GOP insiders, for their part, aren’t counting on an influx of Sanders supporters: A combined 82 percent said it was unlikely that these voters will end up in Trump’s column.
“If a Sanders fan takes a terrible fall on the way to the polls, I mean really crushes their cranium and loses basic critical thinking, they might, and I mean might, vote for Trump,” said a Virginia Republican. “Otherwise no way. Like asking a vegetarian to finish off the Ole 96’er in ‘The Great Outdoors.’”
Ultimately, one Florida Democrat said, Republicans have the more significant problem with crossover voters.
“There will be a few dissidents,” the Democrat said, “but fewer than the number of Republicans who will vote for Clinton.”
These are the members of The POLITICO Caucus, not all of whom participated in this survey:
Colorado: Ryan Call, Laura Carno, Matt Chandler, Will Coyne, Adam Eichberg, Mark Ferrandino, Cole Finegan, Michael Fortney, Andrew Freedman, Ted Harvey, Craig Hughes, Owen Loftus, Pete Maysmith, Frank McNulty, Karen Middleton, Christopher Murray, BJ Nikkel, Josh Penry, Rick Ridder, Alan Salazar, Janice Sinden, Pat Steadman, Pat Waak, Steve Welchert, Taylor West, Roxane White, Rob Witwer
Florida: Fernand Amandi, Scott Arceneaux, JP Austin, Tim Baker, Dennis K. Baxley, Slater Bayliss, Dave Beattie, Wayne Bertsch, Ron Book, Pamela Burch Fort, Jose Calderon, Kevin Cate, Kelly Cohen, Gus Corbella, Brian Crowley, Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder, Justin Day, Judith Diaz, Nelson Diaz, John Dowless, Ryan Duffy, Jessica Ehrlich, Joe Falk, Alia Faraj-Johnson, Mark Ferrulo, Damien Filer, Marty Fiorentino, Rich Heffley, Nick Iarossi, David Johnson, Eric Johnson, Marian Johnson, Eric Jotkoff, Chris Korge, Jackie Lee, Susan MacManus, Beth Matuga, Fred Menachem, Jon Mills, Joe Mobley, Ben Pollara, Andrea Reilly, Steve Schale, April Schiff, Max Steele, Roger Stone, Richard Swann, Kevin Sweeny, Christian Ulvert, Steve Vancore, Ashley Walker, Andrew Weinstein, Andrew Wiggins, Ryan Wiggins, Rick Wilson
Iowa: Tim Albrecht, Brad Anderson, Rob Barron, Jeff Boeyink, Bonnie Campbell, Dave Caris, Sam Clovis, Jerry Crawford, Sara Craig, John Davis, Steve Deace, John Deeth, Derek Eadon, Ed Failor Jr., Karen Fesler, David Fischer, Ben Foecke, Doug Gross, Steve Grubbs, Tim Hagle, Bob Haus, Joe Henry, Drew Ivers, Jill June, Lori Jungling, Jeff Kaufmann, Brian Kennedy, Jake Ketzner, David Kochel, Chris Larimer, Chuck Larson, Jill Latham, Jeff Link, Dave Loebsack, Mark Lucas, Liz Mathis, Jan Michelson, Chad Olsen, David Oman, Matt Paul, Marlys Popma, Troy Price, Christopher Rants, Kim Reem, Craig Robinson, Sam Roecker, David Roederer, Nick Ryan, Tamara Scott, Joni Scotter, Karen Slifka, John Smith, AJ Spiker, Norm Sterzenbach, John Stineman, Matt Strawn, Charlie Szold, Phil Valenziano, Jessica Vanden Berg, Nate Willems, Eric Woolson, Grant Young
Nevada: Mac Abrams, Greg Bailor, Barbara Buckley, Yvanna Cancela, Bob Cavazos, Linda Cavazos, Jim DeGraffenreid, Andrew Diss, Peter Ernaut, Ryan Erwin, Chip Evans, Jay Gerstema, Oscar Goodman, Ryan Hamilton, Dan Hart, Pat Hickey, Zach Hudson, Jeremy Hughes, Megan Jones, Lindsey Jydstrup, Adam Khan, Peter Koltak, Roberta Lange, Sam Liberman, Laura Martin, Michael McDonald, Chuck Muth, Erven Nelson, Kristen Orthman, Neal Patel, Nick Phillips, Jon Ralston, Andres Ramires, Emmy Ruiz, Scott Scheid, Mike Slanker, James Smack, Paul Smith, Jack St. Martin, Mari St. Martin, Daniel Stewart, Brendan Summers, Riley Sutton, Robert Uithoven, Michelle White, Ed Williams, Heidi Wixom
New Hampshire: Charlie Arlinghaus, Arnie Arnesen, Patrick Arnold, Rich Ashooh, Dean Barker, Juliana Bergeron, D.J. Bettencourt, Michael Biundo, Ray Buckley, Peter Burling, Jamie Burnett, Debby Butler, Dave Carney, Jackie Cilley, Catherine Corkery, Corriveau, Fergus Cullen, Lou D’Allesandro, James Demers, Mike Dennehy, Sean Downey, Steve Duprey, JoAnn Fenton, Jennifer Frizzell, Martha Fuller Clark, Amanda Grady Sexton, Jack Heath, Gary Hirshberg, Jennifer Horn, Peter Kavanaugh, Joe Keefe, Rich Killion, Harrell Kirstein, Sylvia Larsen, Joel Maiola, Kate Malloy Corriveau, Maureen Manning, Steve Marchand, Tory Mazzola, Jim Merrill, Jayne Millerick, Claira Monier, Greg Moore, Matt Mowers, Terie Norelli, Chris Pappas, Liz Purdy, Tom Rath, Colin Reed, Jim Rubens, Andy Sanborn, Dante Scala, William Shaheen, Stefany Shaheen, Carol Shea-Porter, Terry Shumaker, Andy Smith, Craig Stevens, Kathy Sullivan, Chris Sununu, James Sununu, Jay Surdukowski, Donna Sytek, Kari Thurman, Colin Van Ostern, Deb Vanderbeek, Mike Vlacich, Ryan Williams
North Carolina: Don Davis, Francis X. De Luca, Anita Earls, Jonathan Felts, Tami L. Fitzgerald, Dylan Frick, Taylor Griffin, Robin Hayes, Morgan Jackson, Patsy Keever, Theresa Kostrzewa, Michael Luethy, Ray Martin, Thomas Mills, Melissa L. Reed, Chris Sgro, Paul Shumaker, Dee Stewart, Brad Thompson, Bruce Thompson, Charlie Wallin, Doug Wilson
Ohio: Jerry Austin, Greg Beswick, Matt Borges, Erica Bruton, Tim Burke, Janet Carson, Jai Chabria, Martha Clark, Bob Clegg, Damareo Cooper, Jo Ann Davidson, Michael Dawson, Bill DeMora, Cindy Demse, Kathy Dicristofaro, Katie Eagan, Michael Gonidakis, Wes Goodman, Joe Hallett, Ian James, Melissa Klide Hedden, David Leland, Nick Martin, Rhine McLin, David Pepper, Molly Shack, Mark R. Weaver
Pennsylvania: Chris Borick, Larry Ceisler, Valentino DiGiorgio, Jason Ercole, Dan Fee, Charlie Gerow, Marcel Groen, Leslie Gromis Baker, Mark Harris, Nan McLaughlin, Aubrey Montgomery, Christopher Nicholas, Nachama Soloveichik, David Sosar, Todd Stephens, Doc Sweitzer, David Thornburgh, Ray Zaborney
Virginia: Ray Allen, Sandra Brandt, Marc K. Broklawski, Patsy Brown, Janet Carver, John Cosgrove, Brian Coy, Doris Crouse-Mays, Tom Davis, Julie Dime, Abbi Easter, Mike Farris, John Findlay, Joe Fitzgerald, Sean Harrison, Margo Horner, Robert Hurt, Gaylene Kanoyton, Chris LaCivita, Sue Langley, Frank Leone, Robert G. Marshall, Tucker Martin, Ed Matricardi, Susan J. Rowland, Peter Snyder, Susan Swecker, Jo Thoburn
Wisconsin: Meg Andrietsch, Mary Arnold, Kevin Barthel, Mike Basford, Rebecca Bonesteel, Barry Burden, Terri Burl, Jim Camery, Patrick Guarasci, Robert Hansen, Gary Hawley, Marian Krumberger, Emily Nehring, Jason Rae, Brandon Scholz, John Zapfel
Kristen Hayford contributed to this report.