While Republican Party insiders angle for a last-minute alternative to Donald Trump, GOP voters are warning against convention deals that seem to go against the will of the rank and file.
A majority of Republican voters want Trump to get their presidential nomination if he’s ahead but short of a majority heading into their convention, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll. And a big majority want any contested convention to be off limits to politicians who didn’t first run in the primaries - such as House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin or 2012 nominee Mitt Romney.
The findings puncture some Republican hopes that a more establishment-friendly candidate such as Ryan or Romney could become the party nominee at a contested 2016 Republican National Convention if front-runner Trump doesn’t clinch the nomination before then.
Fifty-two percent of Republicans said the party should nominate Trump if he has more delegates than any rival heading into the convention, with only 40 percent saying the party should look elsewhere.
“There is clearly a sentiment on the part of a majority and even more among key groups that if he has the most going in but failed to secure it, he should still get the prize at the end,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in New York.
Trump himself has warned that a contested convention could result in disaster, unless he got the nomination: “I think you’d have riots,” he told CNN last month, noting that he’d picked up support from millions of voters. “If you disenfranchise those people, and you say, ‘I’m sorry, you’re 100 votes short’ ... I think you’d have problems like you’ve never seen before. I think bad things would happen.”
If Trump does not have the votes clinched from the primaries to win the nomination on a first convention ballot, that would mean a contested convention in which many delegates would be up for grabs on subsequent ballots.
And GOP voters are clear, by 65-29, that they want only candidates who already have run in the primaries to be eligible.
“There’s very much a notion that if you weren’t in, you shouldn’t win,” said Miringoff. “If they go outside to any of those folks, it would be done at great jeopardy and at great risk. The electorate would not be happy.”
The survey findings underscore a belief that after months of campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire and participating in debates “then all of a sudden the convention jolts in a different way, would not present a very pretty picture,” Miringoff said.
Party rules adopted in 2012 already limit the convention’s eligible field of candidates. A candidate has to win a majority of delegates in at least eight states to be considered for the nomination, according to those rules. The rules could be challenged before the convention, however.
Trump’s rivals sensed momentum this week heading into the Wisconsin primary on Tuesday, stirring new talk of a multi-ballot convention and new speculation about Ryan as a possibility.
Traveling in Israel, Ryan insisted he’s not.
“I think you should run, if you’re going to be president,” he told The Times of Israel. “I think you should start in Iowa and run to the tape.”
The opposition to a candidate who hadn’t run in the primaries was strongest among Cruz supporters, with just 25 percent finding it acceptable for the nominee to be a noncandidate. Among Trump supporters, 28 percent found it acceptable for a noncandidate to be the nominee.
Whether that means more interest in former candidates such as Sen. Marco Rubio, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush or retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson is an open question.
On the first ballot, virtually all delegates are bound to their candidates. Most are freed on a second ballot, and by the third ballot, almost anything goes.
Trump’s support is especially strong among those identifying themselves as “strong” Republicans or tea party supporters. There is also a clear gender gap: 57 percent of men support Trump getting the nomination even if he hasn’t won a majority before the convention while only 46 percent of women think he should get the nomination under those circumstances.
The poll results also mirror the deep divide within the party: Trump backers provided most of the support in favor of Trump securing the nomination even if he doesn’t have enough delegates for the nomination. Almost 9 in 10 – 85 percent – of Trump supporters say the party should nominate him even if he doesn’t secure enough delegates.
But clear majorities of supporters of his two remaining rivals, Cruz and Kasich, say the party should nominate an alternative if Trump doesn’t have enough delegates to clear the first ballot at the convention.
More than half of those Republicans who identified themselves as “moderate” also said the party should look elsewhere if Trump doesn’t seal the deal.
This survey of 1,297 adults was conducted March 29-31 by The Marist Poll sponsored and funded in partnership with McClatchy News Service. Adults 18 years of age and older residing in the contiguous United States were contacted on landline or mobile numbers and interviewed in English by telephone using live interviewers. Landline telephone numbers were randomly selected based upon a list of telephone exchanges from throughout the nation from ASDE Survey Sampler, Inc. The exchanges were selected to ensure that each region was represented in proportion to its population. Respondents in the household were randomly selected by first asking for the youngest male. This landline sample was combined with respondents reached through random dialing of cell phone numbers from Survey Sampling International. Assistance was provided by Luce Research for data collection. After the interviews were completed, the two samples were combined and balanced to reflect the 2013 American Community Survey 1-year estimates for age, gender, income, race, and region. Results are statistically significant within plus or minus 2.7 percentage points. There are 1,066 registered voters. The results for this subset are statistically significant within plus or minus 3.0 percentage points. There are 444 Republicans and Republican leaning independents. There are 497 Democrats and Democratic leaning independents. The results for these subsets are statistically significant within plus or minus 4.7 percentage points and plus or minus 4.4 percentage points, respectively. The error margin was not adjusted for sample weights and increases for cross-tabulations.