Until very recently, I have been skeptical that the Republicans would block Trump from the nomination with convention shenanigans. Yesterday, I started thinking about how Republicans could kill two birds with one stone by nominating Cruz in a brokered convention. They could excommunicate Trump, and give Cruz a worthless nomination, thereby taking him out of the running for 2020, which makes sense if 2016 is already a lost cause. I'm still not sure what I think of this strategy, but it is worth going through the Republicans' options. None of them are good.
For this post, let's assume that the delegate count puts Trump in the lead, but below 50%, followed by Cruz. Could that change? Sure, but this looks like a rather likely scenario right now.
1) Republicans could just give in and let Trump have the nomination. The problem is Trump's political toxicity. How do other Republican candidates stop him from taking the whole party down with him? Simple. Disavow him. Any individual Republican candidate worried about being connected to Trump can say something like the following: "I do not endorse Donald Trump. He doesn't speak for me, and frankly, I'm not sure how I will vote for president. I may just write in 'Paul Ryan.' We need real leadership and real conservative policy, and we won't get that with Trump." (Copyright pending-- any candidate using this script should make checks payable to Justin Buchler). Imagine a Republican candidate saying that. Loudly and repeatedly. They might lose some votes from Trump loyalists, but it could also serve to make candidates look much more moderate, which is an electoral boon, and the appeal to conservatism could ensure that such a candidate doesn't lose too much of the base. Risky? Sure, but if candidates are that afraid of being linked to Trump, a campaign might be able to solve it. Campaign effects are over-rated, but this year, things are weird.
2) Republicans could disregard the plurality delegate winner and hand the nomination to Cruz. The problems are myriad: it would look illegitimate (although as I have said before, legitimacy is nonsense anyway), hand the nomination to someone Republican leaders hate, push Trump into either an independent campaign or other form of sabotage that would doom the party anyway, and potentially fracture the party Humpty-Dumpty style. As I have said before, this may have the benefit of taking Cruz out of the running for 2020 by giving him a worthless nomination in a year that is a lost cause anyway, but this is a big risk. As I have noted elsewhere, the Republican Party is a power structure, and those who have power within it have incentives to keep the structure standing (see here). It is the conservative movement, not the Republican Party, that might have incentives to burn things down and start from scratch, as I argued here. The other big complication is that this requires the courage to confront Trump. Republican leaders have been conspicuously lacking in that courage. Part of that is that everyone who confronts him tends to whither under his response, and part of it is the fear of him going rogue, so to speak. If Republicans have been that afraid of him going rogue, so much so that they wouldn't even criticize him, are they going to force the issue at the convention?
3) Republicans could call the whole thing a wash, and draft either Paul Ryan, or someone else with broad support. I've written before about Ryan's thinking here, but this, too, is a risky strategy, for all the reasons listed above. It only works if there is a truly unifying figure. Ryan is about as close as there is in the party, but at this point, it would only be truly safe if they could reanimate the corpse of Ronald Reagan. Then again, ReaganGolem hasn't done much in more than a decade. Very low energy! Sad!
4) Cut a deal with Trump. Find a Cheney-like figure to be his VP, pre-select a cabinet and set of judicial nominations, and tell Trump that these are the conditions for letting him get the nomination. This might be the safest option. It avoids the party breakup and questions of legitimacy, while putting shackles on Trump in office. He is limited anyway, as I have written before when comparing him to Carter (see here and here), so maybe this is what happens.
There aren't any good options left for the Republican establishment, or whatever is left of it. The delegates, whoever they are, might even reject any negotiations among the higher-ups, in which case this strategizing is meaningless anyway.
What will happen?
I'm back to my 2016 disclaimer. Take it away again, Mad Season.