Guest Columnists

The GOP presidential race's Machiavellian games

Steffen Schmidt
Steffen Schmidt

Lindsey Graham, Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney and other establishment endorsements of Ted Cruz are probably not endorsements. There was an 85 percent consensus in my political focus group.

They sense that all of this is an effort to slow down Trump and deny him the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination this summer.

Then, if none of the three Republicans still in contention, which includes Ohio Gov. John Kasich, have a majority of delegates, these “establishmentarians” and all the others who hate Trump and Cruz (which allegedly is a majority of the GOP elites) can declare a “contested convention” and pivot to a “consensus candidate” of their own.

This is by no means a novel conclusion but given the comments by people such as Sen. Graham, it seems clear that many feel the choice between Trump and Cruz is the difference between death by gunshot or poison.

Of course there are many strong supporters for Trump — as his electoral success in the primaries and caucuses has demonstrated. There is also strong support for Cruz. There is weaker enthusiasm for Kasich and “residual” backing for all the others from that monster field of 17.

My advice is that as you watch the contests unroll until June when the last “games” are played in California, New York and other places, don’t focus so much on whether anyone arrives at the majority of delegates. Instead, see if the three remaining teams effectively deprive each other of the necessary number of delegates and therefore create paralysis.

If that happens, the GOP convention rules committee, which rewrites the rules every four years anyway, will design a new set of requirements for getting the party’s blessings.

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One likely change will be the elimination of the rule that requires a candidate to have won at least eight primaries. As of today, only Donald Trump meets that standard.

There is a lot of buzz that if no one meets current eligibility rules (number of delegates, number of wins in primaries) then the convention will pick a candidate of their choice. That person, my informants tell me, would not need to be one of the three remaining contenders. It wouldn’t even need to be any Republican who ran in this season’s primary and caucus contests.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, who ran as Romney’s vice presidential candidate, has been discussed as a potential compromise candidate. Romney’s name is also floating around since he won the nomination last time around.

I refer to this whole complex and incredibly strategic calculus as “The Machiavellian Game”. The Italian Renaissance historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist, and political scientist believed in the need for leaders to use all means necessary to gain and keep power for the good of stability and the protection of society.

That’s why this year’s GOP race for the White House is so intense and brutal. The gloves are off. There are no rules.

Put up your tray tables. Fasten your seat belts. The political turbulence will get even more intense.

• Steffen Schmidt is professor of political science at Iowa State University. Comments: steffenschmidt2005@gmail.com

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