For better or worse, Senator Ted Cruz’s Wisconsin win last night marks what many media outlets are portraying as a fierce battle ahead for Trump’s efforts to claim the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the presidential nomination.
Following this win reports are almost unanimously predicting a contested Republican convention this summer.
Or as Billy Zane once proclaimed, “It’s a walk off.”
As the Washington Times noted this morning for instance, Cruz has delivered “a stunning blow” to Trump, “resetting the race as it heads east later this month.” Upping the ante, the Wall Street Journal focused on the increased odds of a contested convention following the Wisconsin primary.
Specifically, statistics website Predictwise.com has set the chances for a contested convention to 75 percent.
Some Republicans argue that both Cruz and Trump are unelectable, so the convention may have to coronate a third candidate.
Speaking on MSNBC today, Adolfo Franco, a former advisor to former presidential candidate Senator John McCain, argued that the "Third Man" option was a political necessity:
You cannot have a candidate who has called our majority leader a liar. You cannot have a candidate who is loathed by the entire Republican party establishment and members of Congress and have him be a nominee who's going to be successful and can govern. Therefore, I think the rationale will be clear. We can't come to a consensus, this has been so divided.
We have to turn to someone else who can unify the party. No one really believes...[that] Ted Cruz can unify the party; Donald Trump is in the same category. Therefore, we need a unifier, not a divider. And we need someone who can win in November. When you stack that up to people who are delegates and activists and party leaders, it comes out: We need an alternative.
So it's not surprising that John Kasich was emboldened by last night's results, and has “insisted he’s staying in despite another loss,” according to the WSJ report.
But there is talk of an eventual nominee who hasn't even run. Last month, former Massachusetts governor and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney fueled that theory when he said that he would accept the nomination in the event of a contested Republican National Convention.
“Yes, it is absolutely possible that Mitt Romney could be the Republican nominee,” said Steffen Schmidt, a political science professor at Iowa State University.
BuzzFeed’s McCay Coppins disagrees with the "Third Man" theory. "I just don’t see the scenario where you bring in someone who didn’t even run in this election to unify the party and Trump voters and Cruz voters just falling in line and saying, ‘alright, that’s fine with me.'" he said on MSNBC today.
Still, the main focus is on the delegate count between Cruz and Trump. Under the headline “Cruz wallops Trump, setting up delegate brawl," Politico reported that Cruz “handed Trump his most consequential defeat since the Iowa caucuses and made the frontrunner’s path to the 1,237 delegates he needs even steeper.” As a result, the Politico article added that Trump “needs to win nearly 70 percent of the remaining delegates to avert a convention floor fight.”
And a serious fight it could be. Writing in Politico, Adam Wren finds parallels with what might be coming in Cleveland to the GOP’s last contested convention, in Kansas City in 1976, when delegates were torn between incumbent Gerald Ford and "conservative crusader" Ronald Reagan:
“It was riotous,” says Craig Shirley, the author and historian who chronicled Reagan’s 1976 campaign in his book. “It went on for hours, and there were melees in the hall.”
The 1976 convention is not a perfect analogy to 2016—there were only two candidates bracing for a contested convention, not three, and anything more than a first ballot round was always unlikely—but there are parallels, including the uncertainty factor.
“You just don’t know what’s going to develop right now,” [current John Kasich strategist Charlie] Black says. “I do know that every delegate will be important, and nobody can rig the rules.”
In many ways, a look back at the events of Kansas City offers what could also be a look forward to the Cleveland proceedings, from how delegates were romanced by each candidate (they routinely phoned delegates and invited them to personal dinners weeks ahead of the convention) to complex rule and platform stratagems designed to reset the nomination fight inside the convention hall (could the much-bandied Rule 40 become this year’s 16-C?) to petty gamesmanship and outright shenanigans (the Ford committee who planned the convention booked accommodations for the pro-Reagan Texas delegation 50 miles away from Kemper Arena).
Lumping further fuel onto the predictions fire, Reuters said Cruz’s “double-digit win over Trump was a breakthrough for Republican Party forces battling to block the controversial New York billionaire.” With AP chiming in that while Trump “still leads the Republican field, Cruz and an array of anti-Trump forces hope Wisconsin signals the start of his decline.”
Of course it’s not just media outlets portraying this message. Quoted in theDallas Morning News, Cruz proclaimed in his victory speech: “Tonight is a turning point. It is a rallying cry. It is a call from the hardworking people of Wisconsin to the people of America. Tonight, Wisconsin has lit a candle guiding the way forward.”
But, in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal, former Wisconsin governor and Kasich campaigner Tommy Thompson said it was premature to describe Cruz’s win as a sign of party unity. “The campaign was set up in order to stop one candidate,” Thompson said. “It’s going to be hard for a while to put the pieces together.”
Adding to this more sober account, McClatchy said that while Cruz will likely “get another boost this weekend when Colorado’s Republican convention pick delegates,” when the Republican race heads to Northeastern states where Cruz has shown little appeal “he heads toward a steep political highway cluttered with obstacles.” As the McClatchy report pointed out, nearly all of the “remaining GOP contests are primaries, which usually favor Trump.”
Naturally the Trump campaign echoed this sentiment. As reported in USA Today, the Trump campaign was quoted as saying “it would rally in future states,” further accusing Cruz as being “worse than a puppet—he is a Trojan horse, being used by the party bosses attempting to steal the nomination from Mr. Trump."
The opening of the brokered 1976 GOP convention was a bad omen. Wren notes in Politico that “a 55-foot-tall inflatable elephant meant to welcome the delegates took flight in downtown Kansas City only to drift into nearby nylon wiring, ripping its stomach apart.”
What does the party’s beleagured mascot have to look forward to when it comes to Cleveland on July 18?