Will Republicans unite behind Trump?
Presumptive nominee may have uphill battle gaining support of GOP
SAN ANTONIO – “Surprise” may be the word that defines the Republican Party’s 2016 campaign season.
The country has watched the GOP front-runner, businessman Donald Trump, crush his competition in primary after primary, from Hawaii to New York.
Along the way, the Republican candidates who sought to defeat the billionaire saw a few victories of their own. But the key word there is “few.”
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, won his home state. Ohio Gov. John Kasich likewise won his home state. The blow that knocked U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, out of the race was when he lost the Sunshine State to Trump.
And so it went that the number of states that swung in Trump’s favor diminished any hope the other candidates had of taking up a residence and office at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington D.C.
Bexar County Republican Party Chairman Robert Stovall used the defining word for Republicans when he talked to KSAT 12’s Paul Venema after Kasich and Cruz both dropped out of the race.
“I think it caught most of us, especially down here in Texas, by surprise,” he said. “Ted Cruz has been a formidable candidate.”
But the underdogs couldn’t muster strong campaigns strong enough to win against Trump’s powerhouse campaign.
Now the question will be if the Republican Party will get behind Trump.
CNN’s John King said there are several camps staging within the party: the “Never Trump,” those who are conservative but would never vote for Trump; the “I don’t like Trump, but we better get behind him or the party’s done” camp, which is composed of Republicans who don’t want to see the end of the Republican Party; and the “I’m not sure what to do” group.
The “Never Trump” Camp
Exactly how big is the “Never Trump” Camp?
“How active are they, how vocal are they, and do they get a recognizable young, conservative national leader who’s willing to run as a third-party candidate?” asked King as he pondered the possibilities. “Donald Trump’s most urgent challenge … is to try to convince the Republican Party this will not only be OK, it might actually be good for (them).”
Still, the fact remains that there are a lot of questions surrounding Trump and his viability for a successful bid for the presidency.
And, King said, there’s a downright opposition to Trump. The sooner he can unify Republicans, the better, King said, because if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee for president, she will be a formidable candidate.
What about Texas?
The Lone Star state is “reliably red,” King said.
But he asked, “What if there is a third-party candidate who is also conservative?”
“If there is a credible third-party challenger that can get 4, 5, 6, 7 percent of the vote in a place like Texas, the Democrats will actually look at Texas in the general election,” King said. “The sooner Donald Trump can stop that talk, take the air out of the “Never Trump” movement, the better for his candidacy.”
Trump is already attempting to squash some of the party’s skepticism, but he’s got work to do when it comes to top leaders like Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who said that he’s “just not ready” to support Trump.
Ryan told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he’s hasn’t gotten to the place yet where he can get behind Trump. That’s a blow considering that the Wisconsinite is the most senior-level GOP representative.
Ryan told Tapper that he would like Trump to unify “all wings of the Republican Party and the conservative movement.”
"And we've got a ways to go from here to there," Ryan told CNN.
Who could be that third-party challenger?
According to King, a list of potential third-party challengers is still swirling around.
A third-party person could throw the whole race into another dimension. King referenced Ross Perot in the ‘90s, who captured 19 percent of the vote. It knocked the elections for a loop.
A third-party conservative would only need a few percentage points in a few battleground states to throw the election to the Democrats, King said. And that’s where Texas comes into play for the Democrats in a general election scenario.
One name: Ben Sasse
Just this week, Ben Sasse, a Republican senator in Nebraska, penned an open letter to Americans voicing his frustration with presumptive nominee Trump, as well as likely Democratic nominee Clinton.
“If you are one of those rare souls who genuinely believe Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are honorable people — if they are the role models you want for your kids — then this letter is not for you,” Sasse wrote. “Instead, this letter is for the majority of Americans who wonder why the nation that put a man on the moon can’t find a healthy leader who can take us forward together.”
Could the freshman senator from Nebraska be the wild card in the race?
King said he’s relatively unknown nationally but is well-known within the conservative movement and among Tea Party activists.
“Would he be persuaded to do it?” King asked. “I think that is the big question for the next month because if you’re going to do this, it costs a lot of money, it takes a lot of energy and it takes a lot of nitty-gritty getting signatures on petitions to get the ballot access in those states. If the “Never Trump” movement wants to field a candidate, they have to move quickly.”
For months, the chairman of the Republican Party, Reince Priebus, has been working behind closed doors to figure out what his party’s future might be and if Trump will be a part of that future.
Despite all the friction that’s been going on, the one thing Priebus knows is that to win elections, people have to get along and the party has to unite.
“You have to convince people who are skeptical, ‘Get on the train,’” King said of Priebus. “‘You may not like this, but if we are going to win in November, we have to do this.’ Reince Priebus’ greatest weapon is not Donald Trump, it’s Hillary Clinton.”
The one message Priebus will probably deliver to his party is to look beyond Trump and examine their own interests and candidacies going forward.
“‘You want to keep your Republican governor? You want to keep your Republican senator? You want to keep your Republican members of the House? Then we have to look like we’re a family, we have to look like we’re all on the same page,’” King said of what Priebus could be thinking.
“[He has] to go to Republicans and say, ‘I know you don’t like Trump but if we don’t get behind this guy and our party is this disorganized, fractured mess, not only will Hillary Clinton win the White House, but we may lose the United States Senate,” King said.
For some Republicans, following Priebus’ directions won’t be that difficult. That’s because they may be in places where Trump’s campaign message resonates.
But for the others who may not see eye-to-eye with the GOP front-runner, and in places like Texas, where voters picked someone else over Trump, King said the best bet for the chairman is to have those Republicans rally around Trump. They have to be prepared to get through the general election.
For so long there had been talk about a contested convention, which is also known as a brokered or open convention. Many people pondered the possibility of what could happen at a contested convention if Trump had not been able to arrive in Cleveland with 1,237 delegates.
While he’s still on his way to that magic number, he is the only candidate left, and King said it shouldn’t be hard for Trump to claim that prize now.
With West Virginia and Nebraska primaries to be held next week, King predicts that again, Trump will win big -- even “sweep,” he said. It should be noted that those other candidates who are no longer mounting campaigns remain locked in place on the ballot. They could still get a lot of votes or even win.
If somehow Cruz won Nebraska, King said, that could send a message that conservatives are angling for another outcome. But it’s an improbable event unlikely to happen, especially with California’s upcoming primary on June 7. A whopping 172 delegates are at stake there. In comparison, Nebraska’s May 10 primary has 36 Republican delegates available.
The road ahead
Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party for all intents and purposes. Hillary Clinton will finish the primary season as the Democratic nominee, even though challenger Bernie Sanders has vowed to finish the primaries in the race. It’s simply coming down to a math equation that Sanders can’t overcome.
That means Trump and Clinton, two people whom so many people across America did not see as the Republican and Democratic choices, and two people who have appeared as friends in the past, will compete for the position of leader of the free world.
What about Trump? The business mogul could drastically change his tone. After all, primaries are all about trash-talking the competition within the same party. Strategists say Trump must change his tone, and word from inside the Trump campaign is that he realizes he must sound more presidential to win.
What about Clinton? Folks generally love her or hate her. There’s seldom any middle ground for the former first lady and secretary of state. The Benghazi email scandal that has faintly surrounded her candidacy for president is also sailing off into the sunset, which means she will not be indicted or face any more probes.
What about the third-party person? That remains to be seen and if a candidate were to enter the race on a third-party ticket, that would have to happen quickly, as King noted.
From now to the election in November, folks should expect to see two interesting political conventions. KSAT will be there to bring you coverage on the ground as it happens. Don’t forget about the TV ads, pundits and stories from the campaign trail. Then the debates. And aside from the irregular primary season, this should shape up to be a normal election cycle.
The only difference here is the surprising rise of a non-Washington D.C.-insider businessman from New York, and his friend, Hillary Clinton.
Copyright 2016 by KSAT - All rights reserved.