The election that has seen everything just added a new thing: The last Republican nominee warning the GOP to deny the nomination from the overwhelming front-runner at any cost -- even if the cost is the party itself.
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Mitt Romney leveled a vicious and detailed attack against Donald Trump’s economic plans, foreign-policy ideas, business history, and even his personal life. It puts Romney in the middle of a late but potentially potent anti-Trump attack that represents the only way the party can realistically keep him from becoming the nominee.
His prescription, though, is even more stunning. He again said he wasn’t running for president. Rather than endorsing one of Trump’s rivals, he chose to essentially endorse all three -- a clear call for a contested convention.
“Given the current delegate selection process, this means that I would vote for Marco Rubio in Florida, for John Kasich in Ohio, and for Ted Cruz or whichever one of the other two contenders has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump in a given state,” Romney said.
That’s a realistic assessment of the current delegate math and voting calendar. The two most likely scenarios are Trump getting a majority of delegates, or nobody getting them; paths that have Rubio or Cruz pulling ahead eventually got even narrower after Super Tuesday.
But make no mistake about what that would mean: That would be the Republican Party burning itself down in order to save itself.
It would mean engineering a way to deny the nomination to the individual who would have gotten the most votes and the most delegates -- and whose candidacy has energized a GOP that needs new voters.
In the very state that elected Romney governor -- secular, liberal Massachusetts -- Trump on Tuesday won 49 percent of the vote, his new high-water mark.
It wasn’t lost on some observers that a contested convention could result in a Romney nomination. Romney didn’t go so far as to rule that out. (Aides concede that’s the only way he might become president.)
The party could also conceivably turn to his former running mate, House Speaker Paul Ryan, who will be in a unique and commanding position to oversee the convention in Cleveland as its chairman -- usually a ceremonial post, though not in this situation.
Romney is a flawed messenger. He sought and received Trump’s endorsement in 2012. The party is still smarting from his infamous “47 percent” comment, his call for “self-deportation” of undocumented immigrants, and -- as Trump himself reminded the world before the speech -- his previously liberal stances on some issues cost him key conservative support in both of his runs for the presidency.
What’s more, there’s little evidence that party leaders are in a position to dictate outcomes to voters this year. Romney is calling for a very specific kind of strategic state-by-state voting that rarely, if ever moves millions of people in particular directions.
It’s also possible, maybe even probable, that Romney weighing in strengthens Trump. His campaign is built on the notion that the establishment is trying to keep him from becoming the nominee, and Trump never, ever goes quietly.
But a Republican Party that has seen its voters stray wildly from its historic principles has only this small window to repair that rift. Under the scenario Romney outlined so robustly, the party can only be saved by destroying itself.