Republican leaders are wavering between grudging acceptance and deep denial about Donald Trump’s likely ascent to the GOP presidential nomination.
With at least three more states in his win column, Trump is now the only candidate with a path to clinching the Republican nomination before the party’s convention in July. But he still must do better in upcoming contests to get the necessary 1,237 delegates, leaving some opponents with a sliver of hope he can still be stopped.
“I still think it’s a very realistic chance that nobody’s going to have a majority of the delegates,” said Henry Barbour, a senior Republican National Committee member who worked on Marco Rubio’s delegate strategy until the Florida senator exited the race Tuesday.
Barbour said Trump “doesn’t deserve to be president,” but also said he could ultimately support the billionaire if he “can convince me that he’s presidential material.”
Trump cautioned that his supporters would revolt if he falls just short in the delegate count and loses in a rules fight.
Of course all those millions who’ve registered to vote would stay home.
Despite the deep concerns about Trump within the Republican Party, there was little tangible action Wednesday that indicated a way to stop the real estate mogul’s march toward the general election.
There was no rush among party leaders or donors to coalesce around Ted Cruz, the only candidate in the race with even a long-shot chance of overtaking Trump in the delegate count. A small group of conservatives moved forward with plans to meet Thursday to discuss the prospect of rallying behind a third-party option, but no candidate had been identified to lead that effort.
The three best-financed efforts to stop Trump abruptly ceased advertising after Tuesday’s elections. The outside groups American Future Fund, Our Principles and Club for Growth have no Trump attack ads planned for Arizona — a crucial winner-take-all contest in six days — or in any states beyond.
Trump urged Republicans to view the party’s nominating contest with the same sense of clarity. During a round of calls to morning television shows, he said some of the same Republican senators who publicly criticize him have called him privately to say they want to “become involved” in his campaign eventually. He also picked up an endorsement Wednesday from Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
Trump also effectively killed the GOP debate scheduled for Monday in Utah, saying “we’ve had enough debates.” After Ohio Gov. John Kasich said he wouldn’t debate without Trump on stage, host Fox News scrapped the event.
Trump has won 47 percent of the Republican delegates awarded so far, according to the Associated Press delegate count. He needs to win 54 percent of the remaining delegates to clinch the nomination by the time the primary season ends on June 7.
Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who is supporting Kasich, said there were “calls going back and forth between the Kasich-Rubio campaign” about the possibility of a joint ticket, though he said those conversations were preliminary.
Any scenarios that end with blocking Trump could leave the party in chaos. But some Republicans suggested that given the party’s current state, the chaos couldn’t get much worse.
“The divisions are already there,” said John Jordan, a California-based donor who was leading a pro-Rubio super PAC. “There’s already open warfare on TV. A couple thousand people in a food fight in Cleveland pales in comparison.”