Some who oppose Donald Trump nevertheless note that he won the Republican primaries and, therefore, that next week will be his convention in Cleveland. Delegates should formalize his nomination and move on, they suggest.
They are mistaken. It is not Trump’s convention, not yet, anyway. Delegates are not rubber stamps; they are delegated authority to use their independent judgment. And the Republican National Convention isn’t a meeting of the Supreme Soviet, under orders to obey party bosses. It is, instead, the highest governing body of the Republican Party, and both the Republican National Committee and the state parties are its creatures, not the other way around.
This week’s decision by a federal court in Virginia to strike down as unconstitutional provisions of that state’s law binding convention delegates underscores the fact that such laws have never been enforced in any state, because they violate delegates’ First Amendment rights. Likewise, state party rules cannot bind delegates, because the rules adopted at the national convention supersede all other rules.
If delegates exercise their authority and vote their consciences – or abstain from voting altogether – Trump can be deprived of the required 1,237 votes to become the nominee. The Wall Street Journal last week quoted a Trump supporter on the Republican National Committee as saying their hard count is 890. If that number is anywhere near correct, hundreds of Trump’s delegates are soft or even reluctant in their support.
But, ironically, just when many delegates are searching for an alternative, there is none at present.
Trump is dangerous. He operates without a conscience, apparently, and never evidences guilt, shame, embarrassment, remorse or regret. He demonstrates no empathy or sympathy for those he cruelly ridicules. Not for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who suffered broken bones and internal injuries from years of torture, whose heroism Trump cannot bring himself to acknowledge. Not for Carly Fiorina, who ran a determined, classy primary campaign, but whose appearance Trump found unacceptable. Not for the disabled reporter whom Trump callously mocked. Not for the U.S.-born judge subjected to Trump’s bigotry. Scores of hurtful statements by Trump, but not a single apology to date. Those who lack a conscience and human feelings of contrition often become ruthless autocrats when given great power.
The Republican Party and the nation urgently need an alternative. The only potential candidate still positioned to offer an alternative to convention delegates is Ohio Gov. John Kasich. He is eminently qualified, he conducted a serious and dignified presidential campaign and, at a time when most Republican officials have discredited themselves by falling in line behind Trump, Kasich firmly rebuffed overtures about serving as Trump’s running mate and firmly refuses to endorse him. Further, every poll aggregated by the website RealClearPolitics in almost a year, including the most recent, shows that only Kasich can soundly defeat Hillary Clinton.
But reluctant Trump supporters will not leave that ship unless a seaworthy one is standing by to take them on board. Unless Kasich makes clear this week his willingness to serve the party as a replacement, Trump will be the nominee. Given his unpopularity across almost all demographics, Trump is sure to be defeated in November, dragging down with him scores of high-level officeholders in Washington and in the state capitals.
Only Kasich can stave off disaster. The convention is not yet Trump’s, and it could very well be Kasich’s. But Kasich must send a clear signal this week that he is ready to serve if the delegates find Trump unqualified.
Gordon Humphrey, a Kasich delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention, represented New Hampshire in the U.S. Senate from 1979 to 1990. He wrote this column for The Washinton Post.