How can Donald Trump be stopped?
At this point in the race, Trump is either someone you can live with — or celebrate! — as the standard-bearer of the conservative cause and the Republican Party, or he isn't. And as I wrote last week, this is an insurmountable divide. That means it's a zero-sum contest. There will be winners and losers. Either Trump wins or #NeverTrump wins (that's the umbrella Twitter hashtag for a diverse coalition of conservatives who will never vote for the man). There's no compromise.
So if you're a #NeverTrumper, the debate now is all about the how.
The most desirable, but least plausible, way to stop Trump would be for Ted Cruz or John Kasich simply to beat him before the Cleveland convention. Unfortunately, Cruz would need to secure more than 80% of the remaining delegates to win the nomination outright. Kasich, the longtime candidate of math-deniers, would need to capture a lot more than 100%.
The second-best, but more likely, scenario is to deny Trump the 1,237 delegates required to automatically win on the first ballot in Cleveland. Right now, that seems quite doable. Recently, University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato projected the most likely scenario for Trump to get past 1,237. It requires Trump to carry both Wisconsin and Indiana handily — which polling suggests he won't manage — and even then he lands at only 1,239.
If Trump can't reach the magic number, most observers believe that he'll hemorrhage support after each ballot, because delegates tend to be party regulars (and more and more delegates are released to vote their conscience after each ballot).
But the margin of his shortfall will matter immensely. On a practical level, if he comes just a few shy of 1,237, he could probably push enough delegates over the edge. Or he could horse trade with Kasich, making the Ohio governor his running mate.
A close call will also help Trump make the case that he “deserves” the party's uncontested endorsement. Some believe, in defiance of the rules, that Trump should be the nominee even if he fails to reach 1,237. My Fox News colleague, Sean Hannity, says he “will support whoever gets the most delegates,” which, given the math, means he will support Trump, period. That's understandable if Trump misses the mark by, say, 25 delegates. But if he misses by 150 — significantly more than the delegate totals of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina combined — who can say with a straight face that he “deserves” anything at all?
The bigger the shortfall, the easier it is to convince delegates that they are not defying the popular will by denying Trump, particularly given the widespread belief that Trump would be crushed in a general election.
Cruz would be the most likely victor of a floor fight, but that isn't assured. The longer the balloting goes, the more likely it is that the bitter and bleary-eyed delegates will opt to order off-menu. That's what Kasich is allegedly counting on. But Kasich is widely disliked, and it might be a good deal easier to find a unifying candidacy in, say, Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Nikki Haley or Mike Pence.
The third option is what Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol calls “Plan B.” If the #NeverTrumpers fail to stop Trump at the convention, they could rally around an independent candidate. Who might that be? That's the billion-dollar question. Some want a true outsider like Marine general James Mattis. Others think Mitt Romney could leap into the breach. The path to an independent candidacy is perilous. But if you're of the opinion that neither Trump nor Hillary Clinton are valid options, the perilous path is the only one available.
There are surely other #NeverTrump schemes that haven't occurred to me — but perhaps they've occurred to you, dear reader. Do you have a surefire way to stop the businessman? If you have an idea — zany or sane — let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Stop Trump.” I'll share the best proposals next week.