A group of Republican politicians and operatives gathered in Washington on Thursday to plot a way to stop Donald Trump. It was the latest in a series of such meetings over the past few days and weeks, almost always involving different actors and ending without any resolution or any sort of actual plan.
Let’s assume – and I am not sure we should – that Trump CAN be stopped at this point as he marches toward the 1,237 delegates he needs to formally clinch the presidential nomination.
It’s possible that the single worst way to bring Trump down is to hold a series of “secret” – and disparate – meetings in Washington among party elites that end without any plan. (Also worth noting: These “secret” meetings always leak out to the media. So they are, um, not all that secret.)
Let me propose something else.
Using 538’s awesome congressional and gubernatorial endorsement tracker, I added the total number of governors, senators and House members who have backed one of the three remaining Republican candidates.
Ted Cruz has one senator (Mike Lee of Utah), three governors (Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Phil Bryant of Mississippi and Greg Abbott of Texas) and 27 House members on his side. John Kasich has two senators (Rob Portman of Ohio and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma), two governors (Butch Otter of Idaho and Robert Bentley of Alabama) and seven House members. Trump has one senator (Jeff Sessions of Alabama), three governors (Rick Scott of Florida, Chris Christie of New Jersey and Paul LePage of Maine) and five House members.
Add them all up and you get this: Seven senators, eight governors and 39 House members have endorsed one of the final three Republican candidates. That’s 13 percent of the 54 Republican senators, 26 percent of governors and 15 percent of the Republican members of the House.
That’s a stunningly small number.
Consider what it might look like if two dozen Republican senators, 150 House members and 15 Republican governors appeared together at a news conference Monday to announce that they were supporting Cruz. And not only that, but that they also decided to wade into the race as a group to send a clear signal to their party and the country that Trump is simply a) not a real conservative and b) could cost the GOP downballot in ways that could set them back for years to come.
An endorsement here or there for Cruz or Kasich means absolutely nothing. Speaker Paul Ryan slapping down Trump for his talk of potential riots if he is not the nominee doesn’t have a whole heck of a lot of impact either. But the sheer throw-weight of almost 200 elected Republican officials appearing together to wrap their arms around Cruz (and say “no” to Trump) would be genuinely powerful.
Of course, Trump would cast such as move as the last throes of the establishment’s panic about the prospect of him being the party’s standard-bearer. And he would be right. But he is already able to do the same thing every time a report of the latest “secret” meeting to stop him comes out. And unlike those largely pointless meetings, a massive show of establishment force would at least have the potential of changing the narrative around the race, even if only for a few days.
Notice the word “potential” in that last paragraph. I’m under no illusion that even if 200 Republican elected officials endorsed Cruz on Monday that, suddenly, Trump would be in deep trouble. He might not be. And probably wouldn’t be given his pole position in the delegate fight. Plus, the ability to rally that many elected officials behind almost anything would make herding cats look like the easiest job in the world.
But desperate times demand desperate measures. Trump’s place in the race is strong enough that to knock him off his spot requires significant risk-taking and, in the case of the scenario I outlined above, significant subsuming of egos.
Because of those egos – and the lack of a person (or people) able to rally the troops – the idea of a mass endorsement of Cruz almost certainly won’t happen. But every time you hear word of another one of these “secret” meetings in which nothing is decided or resolved, think of the potential impact such a broad-scale endorsement might have.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Chris Cillizza