Splashed all over the news this week is precisely the sort of political crisis many party leaders were terrified about — more than three decades ago. Their solution was to invent a most unconventional convention concept: superdelegates.
These hundreds of uncommitted superdelegates would be free to choose a new last minute compromise nominee at the party convention — just in case a presumptive presidential nominee suddenly seemed somehow unacceptable or unelectable. Which, come to think of it, is just how presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has made himself appear to his party’s leaders after his contemptible responses to the slaughter inflicted by a Muslim gunman in a gay club in Orlando, Fla.
Trump’s inability, when under pressure, to stop blurting vile attacks and highly questionable policy pronouncements has caused many leading Republicans to worry that Trump may well lose the presidential election in November and also cause the defeats of many viable party candidates in many states. House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others have condemned Trump’s statements in which he vowed to ban all Muslims from entering the United States. GOP leaders realize such a ban would be contrary to America’s values, principles and constitutional guarantees.
In responding to the Orlando tragedy, Trump repeated the tired GOP attack-mantra of insisting President Obama should use the term “radical Islamic terrorism.” And he suggested Obama must have a hidden agenda for not saying the words.
So (except for one slight detail) this summer’s Republican convention would appear to be the perfect time for superdelegates to finally rescue a party from disaster by switching from Trump to any compromise candidate. Except this: Republicans don’t have superdelegates.
It’s only the Democrats who made that oddball superdelegate idea their conventional wisdom. And the Democrats may not have it for long. For their presumptively defeated challenger, Sen. Bernie Sanders, has made scrapping the superdelegate concept one of his consolation super-causes. Perhaps because they helped Hillary Clinton clinch the nomination.
But before the Democrats jettison the superdelegate concept (which allows party bigwigs including every Democratic governor, senator and representative to be an uncommitted delegate) as a sop to Sanders and his still-furious supporters, they may want watch the next few acts of the catastrophe that’s playing out in the ranks of the Republicans.
Trump blurted himself into trouble when he telephoned Fox News after gunman Omar Mateen killed 49 and wounded at least 53 in Orlando. Instead of speaking of unity, he attacked Obama: “We’re led by a man that either is not tough, not smart or he’s got something else in mind. … People cannot, they cannot believe that President Obama … can’t even mention the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable.”
This was not a one-time accidental blurtation under pressure. Later, Trump (who just weeks ago promised GOP leaders he’d be more presidential) emailed an accusation that Obama “continues to prioritize our enemy over our allies, and for that matter, the American people.”
On Monday, reading a speech from a teleprompter, Trump warned that increasing numbers of Muslim immigrants could increase terrorism in America. “If we don’t get tough and if we don’t get smart, and fast, we’re not going to have our country anymore,” Trump said. “There will be nothing, absolutely nothing left.” That’s why America must ban all Muslim immigration temporarily, Trump said: “We have to do it. … They’re pouring in, and we don’t know what we’re doing.”
Republican leaders rushed to condemn their presumptive leader’s words. (And his few close allies seemed to have developed political laryngitis.) Ryan said: “I do not think a Muslim ban is in our country’s interest. I do not think it is reflective of our principles, not just as a party but as a country.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who previously praised Trump, said: “Traditionally, it is a time when people rally around our country, and it’s obviously not what’s occurred, and it’s very disappointing.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said: “I don’t think he has the judgment or the temperament, the experience to deal with what we are facing.” He called Trump’s personal attacks on Obama “highly offensive.”
And Wednesday afternoon, Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan announced he won’t vote for Trump for president in November. Or Clinton. “I guess when I get behind the curtain I'll have to figure it out,” he said.
At this moment, every Republican named above must privately wish he could be rescued by a posse of political super heroes — the superdelegates the Democrats are looking to deep-six.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.