WASHINGTON — Republican leaders are wavering between grudging acceptance and denial about Donald Trump’s likely ascent to their party’s presidential nomination.
The billionaire businessman 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 glimmer 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 left the race Tuesday.
Barbour said Trump “doesn’t deserve to be president,” but said he could ultimately support him if he “can convince me that he’s presidential material.”
Trump has been widely criticized for his comments on Muslims, women and immigrants, among others, and even President Barack Obama this week spoke out against the “vulgar” tone of this election season.
Now Trump warns that his supporters would revolt if he falls just short in the delegate count and loses in a rules fight at the party convention. “You’d have riots,” he told CNN on Wednesday. “If you just disenfranchise these people, I think you would have problems like you’ve never seen before.”
Despite the deep concerns about Trump within the Republican Party, there has been 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 met Thursday to discuss the idea of rallying behind a third-party option, but no candidate had been identified to lead that effort. The meeting ended with a call for a “unity ticket that unites the Republican Party.”
While many in the room supported Cruz, they declined to endorse the Texas senator or the only other remaining presidential contender, Ohio Gov. John Kasich
The three best-financed efforts to stop Trump abruptly ceased advertising after Tuesday’s primary 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.
Meanwhile, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton set her sights on a November showdown with Trump. Her victories in four primary contests Tuesday was a harsh blow to rival Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, giving Clinton what her campaign manager described as an “insurmountable lead” in the delegate count.
“We are confident that for the first time in our nation’s history, the Democratic Party will nominate a woman as their presidential nominee,” Robby Mook wrote in a memo to supporters.
Clinton has at least 1,599 delegates to Sanders’ 844. It takes 2,383 to win the Democratic nomination.
Trump has won 47 per cent of the Republican delegates awarded so far, according to the Associated Press delegate count. He needs to win 54 per cent of the remaining delegates to clinch the nomination by the time the primary season ends on June 7.
Just a handful of states will vote between now and mid-April.
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 Republican donor. “There’s already open warfare on TV.”