Neither Donald Trump nor Ted Cruz may be the Republican nominee in 2016, despite having acquired far and away the most votes and the most delegates to date.
That is, if the two candidates cannot bury the hatchet prior to the nominating convention in Cleveland, Ohio.
And by bury the hatchet, we don’t mean in each other’s foreheads.
The Republican nominating contest took a turn for the ugly two weeks ago when a campaign ad popped up in Utah featuring Donald Trump’s wife, Melania, who is a model, posing nude in British GQ, saying, “Meet Melania Trump. Your Next First Lady. Or, You Could Support Ted Cruz on Tuesday.”
It was all downhill from there. Trump instantly took to Twitter, defending his wife, blaming Cruz, and threatening to “spill the beans” on his wife, Heidi. Cruz instantly fired back, defending his wife, telling Trump to leave her out of it.
Notably, Cruz denied responsibility for the ad, which was produced by a political action committee, Make America Awesome.
Days later, the National Enquirer ran a story without evidence alleging Cruz had had multiple affairs. Cruz took it as retribution for the ad he says he did not produce, and immediately blamed Trump for planting the story.
Notably, Trump denied responsibility for the story, which according to a report published by the Daily Beast was shopped around news publications for months by allies of Marco Rubio.
Suffice to say — and this is by no means a comprehensive account of everything that has been said back and forth — Trump and Cruz have traded multiple barbs through all this, and the relationship that once appeared positive has gotten downright nasty.
And some say, irreconcilable.
The last point is key, particularly as the calendar proceeds to the Cleveland convention, where it is possible neither candidate will have accumulated the 1,237 delegates necessary to clinch the nomination on the first ballot.
And perhaps not on the second, or third ballots either, particularly should rules allow for votes on candidates besides the top vote-getters Trump and Cruz.
Anticipating this eventuality, Republican establishment figures such as Karl Rove are already floating that somebody else will be needed to unite the GOP in Cleveland. “[A] fresh face might be the thing that could give us a chance to turn this election and win in November against Hillary,” Rove said on the Hugh Hewitt Show.
Meaning, perhaps somebody who has not even appeared on a ballot this year would take the nomination away from the candidates who garnered the vast majority of delegates headed into the convention, disenfranchising millions of voters who participated in the process.
That is, if Trump and Cruz don’t strike a deal ahead of time.
Which, they had better be considering. Historically, since 1912, the GOP has lost the general election 70 percent of the time primary popular vote winner was not nominated at the convention, and won 53 percent of the time the primary popular vote winner is nominated.
The exceptions were Harding in 1920, Eisenhower in 1952 and Nixon in 1968 who lost the primary popular vote, but won the conventions and general elections. But each of those had at least participated in the process, and in the cases of Eisenhower and Nixon, had at least received the second-most votes in the primaries.
Rove’s idea, on the other hand, choosing somebody who didn’t even run, has never been attempted since primaries were introduced in 1912. Gee, Karl, think the voters who preferred Trump and Cruz might be a little ticked off if they get shafted at the convention?
History definitely suggests disenfranchising the leading candidate’s voters at the convention risks political catastrophe in the general election. Not every time, but most of the time. It’s never been tried in the modern process, where every single state has primaries or caucuses.
By the time we get to Cleveland, I suspect cooler heads will prevail and the convention will rally around the candidate who got the most votes, whoever that happens to be, because the predictable outcome if that isn’t what happens is many of the disenfranchised voters will simply stay home in November, throwing the election to Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.
That is, if Trump and Cruz cannot settle their differences before Cleveland, and very publicly. The campaign has taken a turn for the worse, and reconciliation is the only way through it. It’s time to pull back from the brink. Particularly since it appears neither candidate was actually initially responsible for the vicious campaign ad and tabloid stories against the other — and neither may survive a contested convention either once the smoke-filled rooms start horse trading and the Republican establishment takes over.
Why should Republican voters pay the price because some political hacks with vicious attacks managed to drive a wedge between the two GOP frontrunners who got the most votes? At the end of the day, unity will be Republicans’ only hope in November.
If nothing else, the one thing Trump and Cruz should agree on is that Karl Rove and his ilk should not be the ones selecting the Republican nominee for president. The voters in the Republican primary should. It is on that agreement that the entire strategy for a brokered convention falls apart, but it depends on the candidates overcoming their anger at each other.
Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.