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Trump campaigning in Michigan last month

CREDIT: Carlos Osorio/AP Images

Trump vs. the G.O.P.

If Donald Trump wins the Republican presidential nomination, will his own party abandon him?

The Republican Party is at war with itself. 

The closer that Donald Trump gets to securing the Republican nomination for president, the more Republican leaders are closing ranks in opposition to him. Prominent Republicans are practically begging voters to support someone else. Money to fund commercials attacking the billionaire real estate developer is flooding in from Republican donors. And some are even calling for a third-party candidate if Trump does win enough delegates in upcoming primaries and caucuses to become the Republican nominee.

In an unprecedented move, Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, has lashed out at Trump, calling him “a fraud” who would drive the country to the point of collapse.

“He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president,” Romney says of Trump.

Not since Southern whites abandoned the Democratic Party during the upheaval of the civil rights movement half a century ago has there been the potential for such a massive shift in the nation’s political landscape. 

“We are seeing the crack-up of a major American political party,” NPR political analyst Mara Liasson noted recently. “The base [of ordinary voters] has chosen or is choosing a candidate that the establishment says is absolutely unacceptable.”

While Republican leaders deem Trump unpresidential because of his penchant for using coarse language and his blunt—some say nasty—attacks on opponents and critics, that brash style has appealed to many voters. They seem to like the fact that Trump doesn’t act like a typical politician. With only 27 percent of Americans saying they’re satisfied with the nation’s direction, according to Gallup, it’s unsurprising that voters are drawn to a candidate with no experience in Washington—especially one who promises, as Trump has, to shake things up. 

“What we need is the voice of the people,” says former high school teacher Faith Sheptoski-Forbush of Romulus, Michigan. “The voice of the people want Trump.”

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CREDIT: RJ Matson/PoliticalCartoons.com

Convention Battle?

If voters continue to deliver a different result than party leaders would like, a messy battle could be in store at the Republican National Convention this summer in Cleveland. As Trump continues to win in state after state, party leaders have realized that no other candidate will be able to amass enough delegates to beat him through the primary process; the only remaining way to prevent Trump from being the Republican nominee is to try to force a convention showdown. 

Usually, conventions are nothing more than giant pep rallies for the party. The business of choosing a nominee is often wrapped up long before the delegates gather to formally vote for the candidates they pledged to support during the primaries and caucuses. 

But if no Republican candidate has amassed the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination before the convention, which starts July 18, then the candidates still in the race will likely fight it out on the convention floor. Most states “bind” their delegates to particular candidates based on primary or caucus results. But most delegates are released if no candidate wins a majority in an initial convention vote. At that point, delegates who were bound to Trump could shift their support to another candidate—even one not currently running.

‘There is nothing and nobody that’s going to dissuade me from voting
for Trump.’

It’s called a brokered convention, and it hasn’t happened since 1952, when it took Democrat Adlai Stevenson until the third round of voting to beat the front-runner, Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee. (Stevenson lost to Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower in the general election.)  

Resorting to a battle at the convention, however, is risky business, political experts say.

“All hell breaks loose if you bring all these people to Cleveland without some kind of deal worked out,” says Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia. “These are explosive events.” 

Many Republicans are expressing regret that they didn’t attack Trump months ago. Convinced that few Americans would actually vote for him, G.O.P. leaders failed to take his campaign seriously. 

If Trump does wind up with the nomination, either by amassing enough delegates or winning a convention fight, there’s a growing possibility that the Republican Party leadership could abandon its own nominee this fall. Former Republican Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota says Trump’s nomination would create a “historic breach” in the Republican Party. “This guy cannot be the president of the United States,” Coleman says.

Some Republican leaders are worried that a Trump nomination would increase the likelihood of losing the general election to the probable Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. (Clinton, however, is facing a tough fight of her own against another insurgent candidate, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders; both Trump and Clinton are disliked by many in their own parties.) There’s also been talk of trying to draw a third-party candidate into the race as an alternative to Trump.

“I would sooner vote for [Soviet dictator] Joseph Stalin than I would vote for Donald Trump,” says Max Boot, a lifelong Republican and foreign-policy analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations. “There is no way in hell I would ever vote for him.”

As more Republican leaders try to block Trump’s path to the nomination, Trump’s supporters have responded with outrage. There have even been violent confrontations between Trump supporters and protesters at some rallies.  

“There is nothing and nobody,” says Lola Butler, 71, of Mandeville, Louisiana, “that’s going to dissuade me from voting for Trump.”

With reporting by Michael Barbaro, Ashley Parker, Jonathan Martin, and Alexander Burns of The New York Times.

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