Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for president in 2012, in his speech March 3 in which he attacked Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as unfit for the presidency, outlined a strategy for preventing Trump from gaining the Republican nomination. Even though Trump after Super Tuesday is ahead of the other Republican candidates in delegates and is leading in the polls in many states that have yet to vote, Romney suggested that the following course of action could deny him the nomination:
“If the other candidates can find some common ground, I believe we can nominate a person who can win the general election and who will represent the values and policies of conservatism. Given the current delegate selection process, that means that I’d vote for Marco Rubio in Florida and for John Kasich in Ohio and for Ted Cruz or whichever one of the other two contenders has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump in a given state.”
Catholic and other pro-life Republican primary voters may do well to heed this advice. At this moment (after Super Tuesday and the primaries and caucuses on Saturday, March 5), Trump has 382 delegates, Cruz 300, Rubio 128, and Kasich 35. Thus, although Trump has the lead in delegates, his three challengers combined have more delegates than Trump. Since it takes a majority (1,237), not a plurality, of the total Republican delegates (2,472) to win the nomination, if the current ratio of delegates for the respective candidates roughly continues, Trump will not win the nomination on a simple vote of delegates for their respective candidates.
It is in the interest of Catholic and other pro-life voters that Trump not win the Republican nomination, especially with at least one tie-breaking Supreme Court nomination on the line. Trump has supported pro-choice Democratic candidates in the past, has only recently adopted a pro-life position, and has been so unreliable in many of his positions that he can not be depended on to support this most fundamental of Catholic tenets if elected president. On the other hand, the other three remaining Republican presidential candidates, Cruz, Kasich, and Rubio, have all been consistently pro-life throughout their careers. They can all be relied on to support pro-life policies if elected president. Any one of the three would be far preferable to Trump from the pro-life perspective. The three have many differences on policy and strengths and weaknesses regarding personality and temperament that can be argued about. But they are similar, and distinct from Trump, in their support for the right to life.
This similarity undercuts the argument that Trump would have the right to the nomination if he enters the Republican national convention in July with more votes than any other candidate. Trump himself has made this argument. He has countered the claim that if he won 34% of the vote in a certain state then 64% of the voters were against him with the retort that then if say 15% of those voters supported Cruz, then 85% of them were anti-Cruz. But given the similarity on the key right-to-life issues of the other three candidates, the idea of an “anti-Trump” vote makes a lot more sense than that of an “anti-Cruz” or “anti-Kasich” or “anti-Rubio” vote.
For Cruz, Kasich, and Rubio supporters, any one of the three would be far preferable to Trump; in fact, for many of them Trump would never be acceptable at all. The most recent “second choice” poll, released on February 18, when Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, and Carly Fiorina were still in the race, supports this idea. Among Cruz supporters, the next most preferable candidate would be Rubio (33%), then Trump (26%), Carson (17%), Bush (7%), and Kasich (3%). Among Kasich supporters, second choice would be Rubio (24%), Bush (21%), Trump (16%), Cruz (10%), and Carson (6%). Among Rubio supporters, it would be Cruz (31%), Trump (17%), Kasich (13%), Bush (11%), and Carson (9%). Among the candidates who have since dropped out, Bush supporters favored for second choice Rubio (19%), Kasich (16%), Cruz (12%), Trump (11%), and Carson (9%). Carson supporters favored Cruz (24%), Trump (22%), Rubio (16%), Kasich (7%), and Bush (6%). Christie/Fiorina supporters favored Rubio (27%), Trump (16%), Kasich (14%), Bush (12%), Cruz (11%), and Carson (7%). So most of the votes from the dropped-out candidates will probably go to one of the three non-Trump candidates.
There is less encouraging polling for the Romney strategy as well. According to a February 25 Florida poll, even if Trump and Rubio were the only candidates, Trump would win 52%-38%. (With all candidates at that time, it was Trump 45%, Rubio 25%, Cruz 10%, Kasich 8%, and Carson 5%.) In Ohio, the latest poll (February 20) has Trump at 31%, Kasich 26%, Cruz 21%, Rubio 13%, and Carson 5%. Florida and Ohio are winner-take-all states. If these poll numbers hold and Trump beats the favorite-son candidates Rubio and Kasich in these two delegate-rich states (Florida—99, Ohio—66), he probably will go on to win the majority of Republican delegates before the convention.
So admittedly, the Romney strategy of anti-Trump Republicans coalescing to vote for the most likely of the three non-Trump candidates in particular states is one of desperation. Normally, all candidates want voters to vote for themselves. It would take quite a bit of the Christian virtue of self-sacrifice for Cruz, Kasich, and Rubio to ask their supporters to vote for another candidate if that candidate has a better chance of defeating Trump in a particular state. They certainly would not want to do it if any one of them was ahead of Trump in delegates. But none of them are. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Catholics and others who want a reliable pro-life candidate to win the nomination and the presidency instead of Donald Trump would do well to urge Republican leaders to call for the adoption of Romney’s strategy and for voters to practice it.
Link to David Brooks’ column in New York Times on Republican presidential primary strategy: It’s Not Too Late!