With Donald Trump’s presidential bid in disarray after his abrupt, panicky firing of campaign manager Corey Lewandowski on Monday morning, the idea of a Republican convention coup, already gaining traction in recent weeks, will only grow more popular. As The Washington Post reports, a passionate group of delegates is already organizing, gathering money for a staff and a legal defense fund. They’re calling themselves Free the Delegates, and they’ve decided that House Speaker Paul Ryan gave them the virtual go-ahead on Sunday’s Meet the Press, when he said, “It is not my job to tell delegates what to do, what not to do, or to weigh in on things like that. They write the rules. They make their decisions.” The RNC, however, pooh-poohs the effort as “nothing more than a media creation and a series of tweets.”
For anti-Trump people both inside and outside the Republican Party, a convention coup seems like an ideal way to get rid of a dangerous demagogue before he does any more damage to the Republic. Technically, the scenarios are simple. In one, the RNC rules committee changes the protocols for “bound” delegates, freeing them to vote their consciences. Since many delegates have no special love for Trump, the coup leaders hope they’d be able to make a convincing case to go with another candidate, although it’s hard to see who would take up the blighted nomination, which would be inherently controversial. (Even Ted Cruz might blanch at being nominated in such circumstances.) But the coup could happen even without a rules change: In theory, roughly two-thirds of the delegates could vote to unbind themselves at the convention.
But however appealing a convention coup might be, Republicans should resist it as a travesty against democracy—and one that would make it harder for the GOP to move past this episode after the election and reinvent itself. Trump is so powerful a figure in American culture right now that the only way for both Republicans and our politics in general to move beyond him is to defeat him democratically. Anything less would only remove the poison of Trumpism temporarily, while giving it a second life.
There are two major grounds for objecting to a convention coup: one practical, one moral. The practical reasons are obvious: Even in his battered state, Trump is still popular among Republicans, so taking the nomination away from him would rip the party in half.
The moral case against a coup is even more compelling, and speaks to the real dangers Trump poses and the best way to fight those dangers—not only to the country, but to the Republican Party. Trump won the Republican primaries fair and square. He received almost 14 million votes, representing roughly 45 percent of the party’s primary voters and caucus-goers. This is almost double the support for his next major rival, Ted Cruz, who received a little less than eight million votes. By any measure, Trump has far more democratic legitimacy as the Republican nominee than any of his rivals. The Republican primaries aren’t fully democratic, but they do have a democratic component. To overthrow the popular candidate at the convention would be to invalidate that democratic component.
If Trump were removed by a convention coup, he’d be furnished with a powerful (and accurate) stabbed-in-the-back narrative. This conspiracy theory, all the stronger for being based in fact, would fester and give Trumpism a renewed life, creating opportunities for future demagogues to take up Trump’s mantle.
By picking Trump as their standard-bearer, Republican primary voters have created a genuine problem for American democracy—and it can only be solved democratically. Trump is absolutely unfit for office. He’s a bigot who scapegoats minority groups for political gain. He is astonishingly ignorant of any basic information about policy, and even rudimentary facts about the world. (He recently said he thought Belgium was “a beautiful city.”)
For a man like Trump to be a major-party nominee is very dangerous, but democracy itself offers a solution. And there’s every sign that Hillary Clinton will be able to defeat Trump at the polls in November. Such an electoral defeat—the more emphatic, the better—would not only vanquish Trump but also lay the groundwork for decontaminating American culture of his influence. After he’s lost at the ballot box, both Democrats and non-crazy Republicans will be able to argue that Trumpism does not represent America. Of course, there will always be a small minority of Trumpkins who will bitterly nurse conspiracy theories about their patrimony being stolen from them, but far fewer than if there is a convention coup.
For the health of American democracy, it’s imperative that Trump be thrashed as thoroughly as possible in an election. Sixteen Republican candidates had a chance to do this during the primaries and failed. Now it’s Hillary Clinton’s job to finish the job they couldn’t handle. For their own party’s sake, and that of the larger polity, anti-Trump Republicans should swallow hard and let it happen.