Something unprecedented will obviously have to happen for Donald Trump to lose the Republican nomination. Of course, since Trump is himself an unprecedented phenomenon, what likelier time for an unprecedented response to his rise? The idea he can lose is now based on two facts.
First, he is not yet closing the sale. In aggregate, Trump received about 35 percent of the vote last night on Super Tuesday. That’s a point lower than New Hampshire, a couple points higher than South Carolina—and 10 points lower than Nevada, the last state he won. A candidate whose party is coalescing around him should be seeing his vote totals climb as he becomes more thinkable and more acceptable.
Trump himself praised his own talent for bringing out “new voters” and suggested the undeniable surge in GOP primary voter participation is a sign he’s leading a movement that will overtake Democrats in the fall. Again, it is true that we’re seeing astounding turnout numbers in these primaries. But given the percentages, whatever voters Trump is generating are being offset, or more, by voters being generated against him. At this point, with Trump as the undeniable frontrunner, he shouldn’t have 65 percent of his party voting, to some degree, to deny him the nomination. The Trump “ceiling,” which became a much-mocked idea in the past week largely due to a stunningly (and self-evidently) rotten CNN-ORC poll with him at 49 percent nationally among Republicans, is real. So far.
What’s more, Trump’s delegate tally last night ended up low considering the expectation he would win 11 or even all 12 states and by large margins. He got 230 delegates when the kinds of people who obsess over how many delegates a person should get to have had “a good night” all said last night a good Super Tuesday result for Trump would begin around 240.
Second, there’s an anti-Trump movement. I’m not referring to the Twitter hashtag #nevertrump or anything organized at the grass roots. I’m referring to the fact that from ordinary voters to high-ranking elected officials all over the country, conservatives and Republicans are taking a very cold-eyed look at their situation confronting them and increasingly making the determination both in public and in private that, for the sake of their party and the country, stopping Trump is now their overriding purpose—beyond, astonishingly enough, defeating Hillary Clinton.
The calculations have gotten very complicated about how to do that—from some kind of common-cause ticket between two of the guys in second or third or fourth place to go at Trump together to a mutual favorite-son strategy according to which everybody helps Kasich win Ohio and everybody helps Rubio win Florida on March 15 and thereby makes it nearly impossible for Trump to get the 1237 delegates he’d need to win the nomination on the first ballot. Like I say, this would all be unprecedented. The common-cause ticket—which would require one very ambitious man to subordinate himself to another in a huge gamble—would seem to violate the laws of human nature. The “get Trump at the convention” strategy will lead to political nastiness, populist rage, “stab-in-the-back” charges and other delightful phenomena more redolent of a weak country than a strong one.
But that’s what true movements are about: They are formed by people who have determined the status-quo trajectory is a unique threat that must be disrupted even if the short-term cost is very high. A GOP crackup kills the party’s chances in November. But the stop-Trump movement on the Right is getting to the point at which its members are deciding a GOP crackup might be a moral necessity.