With four candidates remaining, the odds of a contested Republican convention in Cleveland where no candidate has a majority of delegates are higher than ever, according to Josh Kraushaar at National Journal:
Donald Trump’s not-so-magic number in the Republican primaries is 34 percent. That’s the average share of the vote Trump has received in the first 19 contests. He won one-third of the vote in the four early races, 34 percent on Super Tuesday, and a disappointing 33 percent average in the smaller-state races held this weekend. At a time when candidates usually increase their support, Trump’s is stunted….
But despite [Ted] Cruz’s ascendancy and Rubio’s collapse, the likelihood of a contested convention has never been higher. [Marco] Rubio is pouring all his resources and energy into his home state of Florida and its 99 winner-take-all delegates, a last-ditch effort to get his campaign back on track. He is being aided by the anti-Trump group Our Principles PAC, which is saturating Florida’s expensive TV markets with scathing Trump oppo. A poll conducted by the group shows Rubio within five points of Trump, holding him to 35 percent. Meanwhile, Cruz’s strongest states (those with high evangelical populations and those holding caucuses) are behind him, and he has struggled north of the Mason-Dixon Line, where most of the remaining primaries are.
Cruz’s campaign is planning to make a late play for Florida to knock Rubio out of the race and create a one-on-one showdown with Trump. But if Trump loses Florida, it’s hard to see how anyone gets a majority of delegates after this weekend’s results. Still, Cruz is in very good position now. If there’s a contested convention, Cruz may be the most unusual of consensus candidates—one who is loathed by the establishment but viewed as the only Republican who can keep the party from splitting apart.
The article notes that an independent anti-Trump PAC is focusing on boosting Rubio in Florida and Illinois, but not Kasich:
By opening up a third front in delegate-rich Illinois, the anti-Trump forces are making a risky bet. On paper, Rubio is an appealing candidate to the deep swath of center-right Republican voters in the Chicago suburbs. With enough resources behind him, the Florida senator could rebound with wins in Florida and Illinois, which would all but block Trump’s path to a majority. But if Rubio continues to underachieve and [John] Kasich comes just short in Ohio, those resources may have better been spent locking down delegates in Ohio instead of opening new offensives.
The most interesting part of the piece is its analysis that Kasich may be well positioned to come out of a contested convention with the nomination:
If no GOP candidate gets the 1,237 delegates to clinch the nomination, Kasich’s play for the nomination isn’t all that far-fetched. Consider: He’s the only Republican left who hasn’t slammed Trump, his supporters overlap with Trump’s blue-collar base, he’s the most-electable Republican against Hillary Clinton, and he has a home-court advantage with the convention in Cleveland. In addition, his resume as big-state governor and congressional leader may not be a political asset, but should lend him credibility among the delegates in a possible floor fight.
He’d probably need to experience some luck: winning Ohio, and hoping Trump flatlines and Rubio doesn’t win Florida. Under that scenario, he could rack up delegates at the back end of the process and emerge with late momentum. Conservative Republicans would cry foul if Kasich emerged as a compromise pick, but a Kasich-Cruz ticket could satisfy both wings of the party.
A contested nomination has been speculated about for decades, ever since the last one (Ford getting the nod over Reagan in ’76). But Kraushaar just might be right that this year is the best chance in a long time for it to happen, and various pundits and analysts have been suggesting the possibility for several months now. If that happens, it’s likely there will be a significant number of GOP voters who walk away unhappy, and what that means for the general election wouldn’t be known until Election Day.