An interesting little aside from a Washington Times story about what Marco Rubio might be up to at the convention. Remember, Rubio’s taken the unusual step of requesting that the delegates he won in Alaska, Oklahoma, and Washington D.C. remain bound to him on the first ballot at the convention even though he quit the race weeks ago. That move is designed to prevent any of those delegates from becoming unbound free agents and being wooed by Team Trump, which will make it that much harder for Trump to find the votes he needs to get to 1,237 in Cleveland. Those delegates will become unbound on the second or third ballot, but everyone expects hundreds of Trump’s delegates to defect to Cruz at that point. If a few of Rubio’s delegates break for Trump at the same time, no big deal. He won’t be anywhere near 1,237 by then.
The point is, Rubio can hold onto his delegates for at least one ballot but he can’t command them to vote for another candidate. Unless, that is, there’s a rule change before the convention that grants that power to candidates who’ve left the race. Could there be a rule change that would grant candidates that power? In theory, sure:
Ana Navaro, a Republican Party strategist, said she suspects Mr. Rubio “has two goals in mind: stopping Trump and assuring himself a high-profile role.”…
Convention delegates can change [Rule 40], leaving Mr. Rubio — and a handful of other prominent Republicans — with a narrow but possible path to the nomination.
Republicans also could seek to change the rules and allow Mr. Rubio to pledge his delegates to another candidate, putting him in the role of a power broker.
That’d be some sweet deal for Rubio — and for John Kasich, huh? Right now they’re expecting to be left nearly powerless in Cleveland after the first ballot, when all they can do is plead with delegates who were pledged to them initially to vote for the guy they favor on the next ballot. Those delegates are free to ignore them and vote their conscience. Imagine if they weren’t and suddenly Trump and Cruz were forced to kowtow to Rubio and/or Kasich in order to win their delegates and get to 1,237.
Trump and Cruz would never let that happen, right? Between the two of them, they’ll control a majority of delegates on the Rules Committee in Cleveland, so they can block any proposed rule change along these lines. (They can also clarify Rule 40 to say that anyone who failed to earn a majority of delegates in eight states is barred from receiving any votes as nominee, which would eliminate Kasich.) It’s in their interest to disempower failed candidates from controlling delegates.
Or is it? Given Trump’s problems in out-organizing Cruz to win over delegates, passing a rule that would let Rubio and Kasich direct their delegates to support the candidate of their choice would potentially be a silver-bullet way of locking down the nomination for him. Imagine if Trump shows up in Cleveland with 1,100 delegates, with Cruz trailing with 900. The two campaigns will begin competing to win over the remaining unpledged delegates, but everyone expects Cruz’s superior organization to win that battle. If Team Trump also expects that, why would it agree to let any delegates go unpledged? Those are just more opportunities for Cruz to win votes. Trump’s better off with a rule change that leaves Rubio’s and Kasich’s delegates under their control; then all he has to do is promise Kasich the sun, the moon, and the stars in return for his delegates and voila — he’s reached 1,237. He’s the nominee. This rule change, in other words, would solve the problem of Trump’s organizational disadvantage vis-a-vis Cruz. He wouldn’t need to worry about organizing anymore. All he’d need to do is make one deal with Kasich and the nomination would be his.
But Trump almost certainly won’t have enough delegates on the Rules Committee by himself to enact that rule. He’d need Cruz’s delegates to go along, and Cruz’s delegates would never go along. It’s the same logic as above but in reverse: If Cruz is likely to win by wooing more individual unbound delegates than Trump, why on earth would he agree to reduce the number of unbound delegates? Why put his fate in Marco Rubio’s and John Kasich’s hands when he could leave his fate in his own hands and keep winning the battle of organizations with Trump? The only way I can see Cruz entertaining a rule change like this is if he finished a very strong second in the delegate count in June, close enough to 1,237 himself that Marco Rubio’s delegates could put him over the top. Rubio, if empowered to do so, would certainly command his delegates to support Cruz instead of Trump, which would suddenly make this rule change attractive to Cruz. Problem is, it would just as suddenly make it unattractive to Trump. And actually, barring an unusual surge the rest of the way, I don’t think it’s mathematically possible for Cruz to finish close enough to 1,237 himself to win the nomination with nothing more than Rubio’s delegates added to his own. Trump is very likely to end up close enough to a majority in June that he’ll be able to win simply by adding Kasich’s delegates. If Trump plus Kasich equals 51 percent of all delegates (or greater), obviously Cruz plus Rubio equals something less than 50.
There’s one other reason for Trump and Cruz to oppose this rule: In theory, it could give Rubio and Kasich the leverage to force a dark-horse nominee on the convention. Imagine if Trump has 1,100 delegates, Cruz has 900, and Rubio and Kasich have 430 between them which they control. All Rubio and Kasich would have to do is agree that they won’t support Trump or Cruz under any circumstances and the convention would be deadlocked. (Unless, that is, some Trump delegates broke for Cruz or vice versa.) They could force Trump’s and Cruz’s delegates to come to the table with them and settle on a non-candidate nominee who’s acceptable to all sides. I don’t think Rubio or Kasich would do that (if nothing else, you’d have a nasty prisoner’s dilemma where either Rubio or Kasich could defect to Trump and make him the nominee at any time), but if you’re Trump or Cruz, why would you take the risk? Cruz in particular should have the mindset entering the convention of controlling his own fate to the maximum extent possible. He’s the one with the organizational advantage. So long as he protects it, he’s the likely winner.