Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Fountain Hills, Ariz., March 19, 2016.
Photo by Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

The Republican convention fight already getting underway

A few weeks ago, when the race for the Republican presidential nomination was even murkier than it is now, the party’s governors got together for a meeting of the Republican Governors Association. Some super PAC operatives joined them to do a presentation on how to stop Donald Trump.
At the time, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R), who supported Marco Rubio, raised an interesting point that stood out for me. “It’s one thing if [Trump] goes to the convention and he’s got 48 percent, 49 percent of the delegates,” Haslam told the Washington Post. “Then it’s a hard thing to see if there’s a convention floor battle. But if he goes to the convention and he’s got 35 or 40 percent, that’s a whole different thing.”
That, of course, was in early March, and the race has changed a fair amount since then. In fact, it seems extremely unlikely Trump will end up anywhere near 35 of the available delegates – the question is whether or not he’ll cross the 1,237 delegate threshold, or perhaps come very close.
If Trump falls short of the magic number, many believe it will create the opening anti-Trump forces need to nominate someone else. NBC News reports today on Team Trump’s effort to make sure that doesn’t happen.
While Trump publicly dismisses talk of a battle in Cleveland, he is quietly assembling a team of seasoned operatives to manage a contested convention. Their strategy, NBC has learned, is to convert delegates in the crucial 40 days between the end of the primaries and the convention - while girding for a floor fight in Cleveland if necessary.
The outreach is already underway. “We are talking to tons of delegates,” says Barry Bennett, a former Ben Carson campaign manager now leading the delegate strategy for Trump.
The report is worth reading to get a full sense of the strategy, but it’s worth emphasizing that the plan will be shaped by just how close Trump gets by the time the primaries and caucuses wrap up. If he’s only a handful of delegates shy of 1,237, it’s easy to imagine Trump working the phones and picking up backers among the hundreds of uncommitted delegates who’ll reach the convention as free agents.
Indeed, there are currently about 300 up-for-grabs delegates in play. If Trump is 100 delegates shy of what he needs, he and his team would need to pick up support from a third of the unbound delegates.
But make no mistake: plenty in the party are still dreaming of a scenario in which there’s a contested convention and the nomination goes to a white-knight candidate who isn’t even in the race right now.
Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, whose own presidential candidacy crashed quickly last fall, says that if Republicans end up in a nomination fight at the July convention, the eventual nominee could be someone not currently in the race.
I think if it’s an open convention, it’s very likely it would be someone who’s not currently running,” Mr. Walker said Thursday, according to The Capital Times of Wisconsin.
It’s something to keep in mind as the GOP establishment continues to rally behind Ted Cruz, a candidate party leaders have actively and fiercely hated for several years. Some see the Texas senator as a less-ridiculous option to the current Republican frontrunner, but many also see him as a means to an end: if they can boost Cruz and he does well enough to keep Trump below 1,237, it may open the door to keeping the nomination out of Trump’s and Cruz’s hands.
We tend to think of the Republican convention fight as something that’s on the horizon – the Cleveland gathering doesn’t start until July – but the truth is the convention fight is already getting underway.