I've just written this year how the Republican Party rigged its own Presidential primaries. And the shocking development that is Donald Trump, using that con job to his advantage:
What's happening here is that the Republican Party leadership - both the organization itself and the media outlets openly associated with them - tried to rig the game after the relatively embarrassing fiasco that was the 2012 primary season. But they've tried doing this after having rigged everything else: having mounted a massive obstructionist program against Obama and the Democrats by vilifying them as the evil opposition, which enforced a partisan anti-everybody agenda that Trump is easily exploiting; having pushed for more rich-people's money flowing into campaigns via court rulings like Citizens United that Trump can use to basically keep himself afloat and even threatening an independent run if the Republicans reject him; using media outlets like Fox Not-News to script and shape the Republican message to shill to an ever-angered and ever-gullible audience, now attuned to Trump's calls towards hatred and outrage at the Republican leadership itself. Now they're finding that all the tricks they've used to set this all up are now tripping their own efforts.
But I also wrote how the Republican leadership - the deep-pockets and backstage managers - could still skew the system to their advantage in the end: the nominating convention itself in 2016, where they can shut down any Populist effort (even if such a candidate is a genuine disaster for a general election) and place their Establishment candidate (hi, Jeb!) on the ticket. While the party leadership may well be horrified by the chaos of this primary season - sixteen candidates! TRUMP AND CARSON AND FIORINA IN THE LEAD! Jeb sucking like a Hoover Vac! Walker stumbling! (I know, it's too easy a shot) Still too many debates muddying the waters! - that very chaos is the only thing giving them hope that this will all go to a brokered convention where THEY can enforce control.
There are witnesses to this possibility. I have testimony via Steven Rosenfeld at Salon.com:
“I think they will eventually,” said Curly Haugland, a Republican National Committee member from North Dakota and longtime RNC Rules Committee member, in an interview before Wednesday’s presidential debate. “This process was set up for Bush or Walker to win—establishment guys...”
...“Everybody is depending on these primary results, except it is all built on a house of cards, a fabricated reality,” he said. “Everybody wants to have a presumptive nominee. There’s hundreds of millions of dollars at stake to buy votes for primary elections. The votes they are buying are worthless. Nobody wants to hear that story.”
Haugland spent an hour on the phone patiently dissecting the RNC’s 21-page rule book. Delegates are not bound to vote for any candidate once the convention opens, he said, citing various sections. Winner-take-all delegate allocations from the states are prohibited, he said, even though that’s what RNC attorneys want many states to agree to after March 15. The convention is run under Robert’s Rules of Order, not legally bound by state election results. And with so many candidates, it’s likely that no one will reach the RNC’s required threshold to put names officially into nomination, he said, which is a majority of RNC members from 8 states or U.S. territories backing a candidate...
...The RNC would not comment. Meanwhile, longtime primary watchers like Richard E. Berg-Andersson, who runs TheGreenPapers.com, one of the most authoritative blogs on the presidential nominating process, said fantasies about brokered conventions and imagined floor fights always emerge in the summer before the main event, yet never materialize...
...But according to Haugland, the 2016 race is unprecedented in so many ways that all bets are off. “Nobody has been here before,” he said, saying there was no presumptive nominee, no vice-president in waiting, no “remotely obvious” heir apparent, and the RNC establishment was not about to turn over control of its convention to Trump—as they did in 2012 to Mitt Romney before he was nominated.
Haugland is right about the lack of a true standard-bearer for the GOP to rally around, both for the upper party leaders as well as the base primary voters. There's a genuine split here: the party leaders want Jeb! (or a like-minded equivalent like Walker or Kasich or Rubio) while the primary voters want Trump (or a like-valued equivalent like Ben Carson).
The split is too obvious and too big to overcome. The base clearly abhors the "Establishment" candidates - Jeb* honestly should not be polling at this point in the early stages in single digits - as they've had such candidates shoved on them the last three election cycles and despised them enough to struggle for alternates.
Look at Romney. In not only 2012 but also 2008 he was the presumptive heir, the preferred candidate of the deep pocket party Establishment. The 2012 primaries became an embarrassment because the race became a clear battle of Mitt vs. Not-Mitt, the only reason for Romney's final win was due to him being enough in the lead to outlast every alternate choice - Perry, Cain, eventually Santorum - on the ballots. In 2008, Romney lost what should have been a slam dunk to John McCain, who still wasn't trusted by the hard-core party base (nor the party Establishment who hated his self-serving grandstanding).
This cycle, the situation is reversed. The non-Establishment candidates are in the clear lead in polling: Trump and Carson, with Fiorina (a fellow unelected candidate) gaining ground. It is going to be difficult, if not impossible, for the party at the state primary levels to try and rig results to make it look like the polls were wrong. If by the time of New Hampshire's primary (Feb. 9th) Trump is still polling above 24 percent while Jeb? is somewhere around 12 percent (he's currently at 9 percent, so I'm making that Jeb's likely ceiling), and yet Jeb wins New Hampshire in a "tight" upset of 15-to-14... nobody outside of the Jeb-loving punditry is gonna believe it.
Granted, the GOP leadership could try to rig the primary votes - there's been a lot of lines they've crossed before messing with results - but the risks of getting caught are too severe: not just the actual criminal charges that would result, but alsp the voter revolt that would happen as well as the likely rejection by the party's media allies (if there's anything the media elites hate, it's the feeling of personal betrayal. Screwing with their narratives would be a bridge too far to them). Rigging the polls is equally hard to pull off: there are too many polling groups, and each candidate has their own employed pollsters to ensure the numbers go their way. Yes, polls are not exact, especially this early: the polls however do not skew too far into Fantasyland. If the numbers are saying the Establishment candidates are screwed, then the Establishment is screwed.
So the only thing the Republicans have left is that convention in Cleveland.
As long as they can keep more than seven candidates afloat through the entire primary process - likely, thanks to Citizens United and SuperPACs - and they can at least keep Trump from outright winning too many delegates - this is where it gets tricky - the Establishment can wait for the nominating convention in July 2016 and use the rules to put their guy - whichever of the surviving Establishment names made it to second place - on the ballot and leave Trump fuming.
That, of course, runs into other risks as well.
The threat of Trump making an independent third party run remains. If he can honestly point to a rigged convention blocking him - if he's well in the lead or at least sitting pretty at the second place spot - he will have a legitimate grievance to break his pledge not to run independent. And if that does happen, if the Establishment does rig the convention against the populist uprising currently fueling this primary chaos, there are going to be a lot of angry Republican voters rejecting the party's move who will stick with their boy Trump. And that can well have nasty ramifications for other key elections going on (the Senate, state offices, key Congressional seats).
If the GOP party elite thinks their voter base, their Tea Partier faction, or a majority of general voters will back their candidate of a rigged convention just on their say-so, they are deeper into denial than ever before. A rigged convention will be the move of a desperate group trying to regain control over something they've lost control of ever since they unleashed everything they had to weaken Obama from 2009, and even as far back as cutting into Clinton since 1992.
It's likely, because the Republican elites will get that desperate enough when all their other methods to rig the rules to their favor no longer work.