If the three-man race between Trump, Cruz, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich truly drags into July and sets up a contested convention, as is looking likely, the GOP will have to select not just one but two wild-card candidates for the White House. What makes the whole thing even more unpredictable is that, unlike the vote for the presidential nominee, delegates are completely unbound in voting for their candidates' running mate, as Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus noted on Monday.
Ted Cruz acknowledged this week that he's already begun the process of "considering" potential vice presidential nominees, and while that may seem premature, it really isn't.
Assessing, scrutinizing, and vetting a potential running mate takes time. In the 2012 cycle, Mitt Romney chose a trusted adviser to oversee the VP search process on April 16 -- exactly four years ago tomorrow -- for a convention that began in late August. This year, the window is even tighter: Republican delegates will gather in Cleveland in mid-July.
As bizarre as this may seem, this year's Republican convention will officially get underway three months from Monday. Of course credible contenders are moving forward with the process of evaluating possible vice presidential nominees. It's arguably the most important decision a candidate makes before the election, and in 2016, the schedule is accelerated.
But as we look ahead, keep in mind that this year isn't just crazy because of the fight at the top of the GOP ticket. Igor Bobic had a good piece on this the other day:
Priebus told Hugh Hewitt he thinks it's "curious that people aren't talking about" this aspect of the process. He has a point -- things may go in an unpredictable direction.
In fact, it's not outside the realm of possibility that the Republican nominee could have a running mate he didn't choose himself.
MSNBC political analyst Ben Ginsberg, who helped craft the rules at the 2012 Republican convention, talked to the Washington Examiner about this just a few days ago.
"Could the convention nominate somebody not to the liking of the candidate?" Ginsberg asked. Answering his own question, the Republican lawyer conceded, "[T]hings could be a little nuts."
As we discussed a bit last month, if no candidate has a majority of the delegates before the convention -- hardly an unrealistic scenario -- the competitors will find themselves in an unusual situation. If they choose a running mate ahead of Cleveland, they lose a potential bargaining chip and risk a backlash from delegates who may be offended by their hubris. There's even a possibility that a candidate could announce his pick for the party's vice presidential nomination, only to have convention delegates select someone else.
If they don't choose a running mate before the convention, they may get stuck with someone they don't necessarily want, or find themselves having to make a rash and hasty decision on the fly.
The Examiner's piece added, "[S]hould Trump be positioned to win, opponents of the New York billionaire could nominate a candidate for vice president that comes from the GOP's so-called establishment wing. They might do this as a means to retain influence over the party if Trump is the nominee — or just meddle with his candidacy. Trump loyalists could do the same to Cruz, should the Texas senator be on the verge of winning. Delegates and Republican National Committee rules experts say there is no roadmap for navigating a fight over vice president."
Watch this space.