What if the 2016 GOP nominee was “none of the above”? As the GOP marches toward the potential chaos of a contested convention this summer, the idea that a drafted nominee, who may never have even competed in the primaries, could somehow rescue the Republican party from themselves, has gained traction.
Should front-runner Donald Trump suffer a defeat in Wisconsin on Tuesday, as he is widely expected to after one of his worst political weeks ever, it’s very likely that none of three remaining Republican candidates will reach the magical 1,237 delegate threshold to secure their party’s nomination on the first ballot at the July convention in Cleveland. What happens next is ripe for speculation.
Some delegates bound to Trump on the first ballot have already hinted to the press that they’ll bolt in round two. Meanwhile, there has been much hand-wringing over the prospect of Sen. Ted Cruz as the GOP’s plan B. And the guiding principle behind Gov. John Kasich’s candidacy at this point appears to be to scoop up the nomination at the convention when his two rivals fail to build consensus, despite trailing both of them by a wide margin in polls, number of contests won, and delegate count. All of this uncertainty, coupled with troubling early polls suggesting that Trump would lose in a rout to a Democratic nominee and that Cruz would also face an uphill battle, has led many pundits to presume dissatisfaction on the part of the so-called establishment with all their options.
A drafted nominee would not be entirely unprecedented. In 1968, Hubert Humphrey was the Democrats’ standard bearer, although he had never been at the mercy of the primary voters. Prior to that in 1952, the party did the same thing, choosing Gov. Adlai Stevenson over Sen. Estes Kefauver (even though he’d won 12 of 15 primaries that year). Both nominees wound up losing the general election, although it’s unclear if a perception of illegitimacy played a role in their defeats.
It would no doubt be a gamble for Republicans. They would have to convince a large swath of the electorate that they made the wrong choice with their initial primary votes. We’ve rounded up a few names floated as potential “savior candidates” in the fall:
Speaker Paul Ryan - Despite his repeated entreaties not to be considered, the Speaker of the House and former VP nominee has become many conservatives’ favorite fantasy candidate. He is the one figure in the party who appears to have the backing of both the grassroots and the D.C. elite. He has staked out territory as a more sensible alternative to Trump, taking the front-runner to task (without mentioning him by name) for his insensitive remarks about Muslims and his failure to repudiate the KKK. With a national profile and a strong conservative following, Ryan would have the benefit of not having to introduce himself to voters for the first time. And remember, Ryan resisted the Speaker role for weeks before finally caving in. However, Ryan has pushed back against attempts to include him in the conversation, and has said several times that he would “not accept” the nomination even if it was offered. He reiterated this position in an interview on Monday. But GOP insiders still think otherwise, according to Politico.
Mitt Romney - The 2012 GOP presidential nominee is perceived as “wanting it more.” When he delivered his blistering rebuke of all things Trump early last month, he pointedly refused to officially endorse any of the remaining candidates. And while Romney admitted to voting for Cruz in the Utah caucus in March, he has always advocated for strategically supporting any candidate who can derail Trump in any upcoming contest. Like Ryan, he, too, has insisted that he can’t “imagine” being a candidate for president again, but he also hasn’t said he would refuse the nomination should his name be put forward.
Gov. Scott Walker - This would be an interesting scenario. Bounced from the 2016 race surprisingly early, Walker still has a solid conservative fan base and could potentially deliver a swing state (his native Wisconsin) to the GOP column. Although he has provided Cruz one of his more full-throated endorsements from an establishment Republican (even appearing in ads on his behalf), he has also not ruled out the possibility that his party’s nominee could be someone who is not currently running in the race at all. Maybe he has himself in mind?
Sen. Marco Rubio - Speaking of people who are not currently in the race, what about Rubio? The Florida senator suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Donald Trump in his home state of Florida on March 15, but he had amassed more than 150 delegates by then (and now he’s trying to hang on to them). In theory, the freshman senator could have some degree of leverage at the convention. Long seen as a more viable general election candidate than most of the candidates left standing, perhaps Rubio could be buoyed by buyer’s remorse among the party’s faithful. It’d be a longshot, but Rubio may not have much to lose at this point.
Sen. Ben Sasse - The Nebraska Republican made a name for himself by coming out early and often as a member of the #NeverTrump movement. Sasse earned himself a lot of positive press and support for unequivocally stating he would not support the GOP front-runner even if he won a plurality of voters and delegates heading into the party’s convention. He has even gone so far as to suggest that someone on the right should mount a third party campaign to make sure Trump can’t win in November. Should the tenor of the convention take on a decidedly anti-Trump flavor, he could emerge as a popular choice.
Sen. Lindsey Graham - Bear with us here. Graham struggled to connect with voters, ultimately ending his own presidential bid, but in the final weeks of his campaign and now as a popular would-be pundit, the hawkish South Carolina senator became a loose, perhaps even lovable character, whose brutal honesty and barely hidden contempt for extremists in his own party has made him a favorite on the talk show circuit. It will probably never happen, but it would be fascinating and entertaining to see a man who compared voting for his party’s two leading candidates to a choice between getting shot or poisoned elevated to a leadership role.