The 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland is going to be the biggest, saddest disaster that Cleveland has ever seen. And that’s saying a lot! After all, this is Cleveland we’re talking about: a city that has suffered decades of declining population, a city that served as muse for sad sack comic book writer Harvey Pekar, a city that witnessed the embarrassing career of Johnny “Football” Manziel and decades of other agonizing sports failures, and a city that once saw its river catch on fire.
But all of these horror stories are going to pale in comparison to the “mistake by the lake” that the Republicans are about to unleash on America at their National Convention in July. And after this nightmarish clown-orgy of a primary, would you expect anything less?
The conventional wisdom (ha! get it?) now seems to be coalescing around a few key scenarios for how the Republican National Convention will play out, and none of them are good for the Republicans:
Despite winning more delegates than any other candidate and generally dominating the media coverage of the Republican campaign, the latest projections show that Donald Trump is likely to fall short of the 1,237 delegates needed to win the GOP nomination on the first ballot. This is bad for Donald Trump, because it means that he is very unlikely to become the GOP nominee. The party is not going to hand the nomination to Trump without a huge fight, and Trump’s campaign is not well organized or professional enough to handle this particular test. It’s a lot easier to go on TV and talk trash than it is to do the behind-the-scenes work of navigating arcane party rules and winning a contested convention. Trump needed to win the nomination outright, by winning a clear majority of delegates—and now it’s not going to happen. As Nate Silver writes, “If Trump doesn’t win on the first ballot, he’s probably screwed.”
WHY THIS IS BAD FOR REPUBLICANS: Instead of using their convention as a multi-day televised infomercial to promote their nominee and show their party unity (like every other party convention has been since 1968), the RNC is going to turn into a messy slugfest that (at best) produces an unelectable nominee and (at worst) damages the Republican party for years to come.
END RESULT: Democrats win the White House in November. Donald Trump whines about being treated unfairly by the Republican Party and starts his own independent political party, “The Trump Party,” which has a garish gold logo, holds all of its meetings and conventions in Atlantic City, and folds after massive losses in 2020.
Or maybe the latest conventional wisdom (ha! again!) is wrong, and Trump somehow grinds out a narrow win and gets the nomination on the first ballot. Donald Trump as a nominee would be disastrous for the Republicans.
WHY THIS IS BAD FOR REPUBLICANS: Trump is the most unpopular person in national politics, and he’s especially unpopular with women, minorities and millennials—the three blocks of voters that are going to do the most to decide this presidential election. Trump’s strategy has been to go all-in on exploiting the resentments of economically struggling, racist, old white people—and there aren’t enough of those voters to carry him to victory in a general election. Just because Trump is good at getting TV coverage by pandering to the worst instincts of America’s worst people doesn’t mean he’s going to be able to speak effectively to the concerns and hopes of the general electorate—he might as well be talking to a parallel universe.
END RESULT: Democrats win the White House in November. Donald Trump refuses to accept defeat, goes on TV to whine about it, and threatens to sue, but ultimately skulks off to Florida to console himself by eating hideously overcooked steaks.
Even though he has fewer delegates than Trump, and even though he sucks and almost everyone in Washington hates him, Cruz is in the strongest position to consolidate the anti-Trump portions of the Republican party behind his candidacy. And Cruz’s campaign is ruthlessly efficient at doing the unglamorous work of organizing supporters at the district and state convention levels and persuading unbound delegates to support their candidate – while Trump’s campaign is run by amateurs and idiots.
WHY THIS IS BAD FOR REPUBLICANS: If they nominate Ted Cruz, the Republicans are going to anger and alienate a sizable percentage of their primary voters, further dividing the party. Trump is an angry, wounded, self-deluding narcissist; he is unlikely to just accept defeat and go away peacefully. By denying Trump the nomination, Republicans would risk having Donald Trump bolt the party and run as a 3rd party candidate, although he would have difficulty getting on the ballot in all 50 states in time for November.
Also, Ted Cruz would not be much better as a general election candidate than Trump: Cruz’s face is creepy and his demeanor is insufferable, his retrograde policy ideas are badly out of step with the mood of most of the country, and he wants to run America the way Jesus would, if Jesus was a belligerent jerk.
A country that just twice elected Barack Obama, with a stable economy and low unemployment and still somewhat-fresh memories of the disastrous conservative leadership of George W. Bush, does not seem likely to be in the mood to elect America’s worst college roommate as president.
END RESULT: Democrats win the White House in November. In keeping with their time-tested strategy of nominating “a guy who lost to the guy who lost last time,” but also making sure that he’s a huge right-wing Christian, Republicans nominate Rick Santorum for president in 2020, and he loses. Badly.
Donald Trump has warned of “riots” if he doesn’t get the result he wants at the convention, and the Cleveland Police have been spending lots of money on riot gear. Is it so hard to believe that a political party whose most passionate crowds seem to be motivated by racial and religious hatred and lust for violence, might actually take things to their logical conclusion and enact actual violence to settle their differences?
WHY THIS IS BAD FOR REPUBLICANS: A nationally televised disorderly convention and/or violent brawl would horrify the world and damage the Republicans’ credibility as a party that is worthy of national leadership. And then they would still end up nominating Trump or Cruz, who, as noted above, would lose.
END RESULT: Democrats win the White House in November. Trump’s supporters turn out to be really weak at fighting—despite their tough talk and propensity to throw sucker punches, Trump delegates prove to be surprisingly soft, cowardly, and inept at hand-to-hand combat. And many of them are dangerously out-of-shape and suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes, and other chronic diseases of despair that are afflicting middle-aged white Americans. Republicans: They’re not so tough without their guns!
In all sincerity, I hope that the Republican National Convention does not descend into violence and bloodshed. We are a nation of laws, and democracy is meant to be a peaceful way to settle disputes and promote the common good; political violence has no place in 21st century America. But it would be a change to see the Cleveland police using their weaponry against affluent white people in goofy-looking convention attire, instead of against an unarmed black 12-year-old.