Republicans have a big problem. The party’s two leading candidates for the GOP presidential nomination are both viewed unfavorably by a majority of the voting population and are only getting more unpopular. The third-place contender boasts a net-positive favorability but hasn’t resonated with voters outside his home state. So assuming frontrunner Donald Trump doesn’t hit the delegate threshold needed to avoid a contested convention, what are party leaders to do this July at the Republican convention in Cleveland?
GOP überstrategist Karl Rove floated an interesting answer to that question during a Thursday appearance on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. Perhaps Republicans would be best served by nominating a “fresh face” rather than any of the flawed candidates who has actually received votes during the Republican primary process, Rove said.
“If we have somebody who we think has, has been battle tested, and has strong conservative principles and the ability to articulate them, and they are nominated at this convention, there will be a lot of acrimony from the people who were seeking the nomination,” Rove said in response to Hewitt’s question about who he thinks the most electable Republican is.
“But if it’s somebody who has, you know, has those convictions that they can express in a compelling way, we could come out of the convention in relatively strong position, because we do have, you know, look,” Rove added. “Donald Trump excites a lot of enthusiasm. But he also excites a lot of anger within the Republican Party and outside of the Republican Party. And a fresh face might be the thing that could give us a chance to turn this election and win in November against Hillary.”
Last month, Trump predicted “you’d have riots” at the Republican convention this summer in Cleveland if he receives the most votes of any Republican candidate but is blocked by delegates from receiving the nomination. Since then, however, a series of controversies and gaffes has put Trump in a spot where it’s possible he’ll end up being the most disliked presidential candidate since polling existed on the topic.
At its core the Trump phenomenon has been a repudiation of Republican establishment figures like Rove, many of whom lined up behind the failed campaign of Marco Rubio. So the notion that disregarding the votes of the 7.8 million people who have already cast ballots for Trump and the 5.7 million who have already voted for Cruz will be a winning strategy come November is a dicey one. Furthermore, the names that have been floated as possibilities to fill Rove’s “fresh face” role aren’t exactly slam dunks. The New York Times recently reported that two of the names being bandied about are former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) — a man with two failed presidential bids already under his belt — and former Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn (R), who previously warned of “rampant lesbianism” in Oklahoma schools, said that breaching the debt ceiling wouldn’t result in a default, believed doctors who perform abortions should be executed, and thought the Second Amendment should allow people to buy bazookas.
Then again, the Trumpian dilemma Republican thought leaders like Rove find themselves facing doesn’t have any easy solutions.