The path forward for the republican frontrunner Donald Trump basically has 3 possible outcomes this point. He can win the nomination outright, he can enter a contested convention being just short of 1237 or he can opt to run as a third party candidate.
If Donald Trump wins outright the road ahead is clear for a general election, presumably against Hillary Clinton. However, unless Trump reaches the magic 1237 delegates he seems like a certain loser in every scenario, unless he pulls a clever rabbit out of the hat.
Contested Convention Scenario
A contested convention occurs when no single candidate reaches 1237 delegates on the first vote. What happens next is basically quite messy and not yet set in stone as the republican convention committee has not yet written or published the actual rules for the upcoming convention. What we do know is that the majority of delegates are set free for the second and subsequent votes.
This is where Donald Trump gets in trouble. Not only would he need to attract votes from more delegates for the second vote, he would need to retain his own delegates too. Both seem extremely difficult for him. The delegates won by and pledged to Donald Trump are generally not Trump supporters. Quite to the contrary, they will typically be elected to fill the role by local GOP committees at the lower level of the republican establishment. In other words they are going to the convention bound to vote for Donald Trump on the first vote but likely with no intention of doing so in following votes after they have been set free.
Could Trump come out a winner of a contested convention ? He could of course. If he makes superior use of his self-proclaimed magnificent negotiating skills. He could secure backing from unbound delegates. He could be backed by one of his opponents in return for some future favor. He could put a scheme in motion to reach out to the individual delegates one by one and convince them. It is possible. It is not likely.
Plainly spoken all other candidates are in a better place to do the things required to tilt a convention in their favor. Simply things like easy access to the delegates by having support in the GOP locally suddenly matters. Experience with delegate math becomes important. Wheeling and dealing abilities in republican circles attains crucial importance. Trump is a beginner at those games, the establishment has decades of expertise to lend their favored alternative.
#Daysofrage by Roger Stone
What happens if Trump enters the convention a frontrunner with a lead in delegates and the popular vote but still ends up losing on the convention floor? Chaos. Turmoil. GOP splits. 3rd party run. Basically the situation becomes unpredictably volatile with a huge part of the primary voters for the GOP feeling cheated, a Donald Trump likely firing up his troops and thousands of his most ardent supporters in or around the actual convention center.
Trump-supporter Roger Stone is already rallying under a #DaysOfRage and #Stopthesteal banner. The intention seems to be getting the maximum number of riled up Donald Trump supporters riled up and rallied to the Cleveland convention site. How is that going to end? It could be anywhere from mudslinging, lawsuits and animosity to actual violent riots, a split in the party or a third party run.
A Trump Third Party Run ?
Donald Trump has all but said in recent days that if he feels “treated unfairly by the RNC” he might launch a third party run. In reality such a third party candidacy has very little chance of getting anywhere close to the presidency. It will however fundamentally change the race for everyone.
Donald Trump has consistently surprised us. Doing so by being competitive on a third party ticket would require a miracle. In a general election where all states are first-past-the-post it requires amazing nationwide backing and organisation to compete. In fact it would be a huge surprise if he won a single state. Ralph Nader and Ross Perot both failed to do so. Simply put: The odds are heavily stacked against third parties. Even if they have high favorability ratings in the general population. Donald Trump does not. He has strong support from a core but incredibly high negatives with those not supporting him.
Why run as third party candidate then ? Donald Trumps only motivation does not appear to be winning the presidency. He seems to enjoy the spotlight and he has made it a brand to always counter-punch when attacked. The ultimate counter punch against a GOP that stole what he perceives as his rightful nomination would be a third party run.
Donald Trump vs Hillary Clinton vs a GOP winner of a contested convention is almost certainly guaranteeing a Hillary Clinton presidency. Donald Trump will pull some white collar democrats for sure, but he is likely to draw much more heavily on those voters otherwise landing on the GOP candidate. It would further be surprising if GOP downballot tickets did not suffer too. Plenty of races at all levels are tight enough that even a small boycott of GOP candidates from Trump supporters will tilt the balance in favor of the Democrats.
Trump or Bust For the GOP ?
To sum up: Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has 3 ways forward: Winning 1237 delegates, a contested convention or a third party run. His only realistic chance of the nomination and presidency is an outright win in advance of the convention.
Does that mean the GOP is home safe if they stop Trump enough to get to a contested convention ? To the contrary. That outcome might please the #neverTrump crowd mightily, but it more or less guarantees some level of split in the party too.