Donald J. Trump may have finally collapsed. Could a difficult week be the beginning of his ouster?
After a week of disastrous blunders and gaffes, Mr. Trump has fallen well behind his opponent and is falling still. Two new national polls have the Republican nominee trailing by double-digits, while a third shows him down 9 points nationally. In the crucial swing state of Florida, Mrs. Clinton has taken a 4-point lead, and new surveys from Arizona and Georgia—states which have gone red for the past twenty years—give her a slim lead there too.
Facing an electoral map already unfavorable to Republicans, Mr. Trump should be gaining ground—not losing it—if he is to have any chance of winning this year’s election. Elected Republicans and party leaders are acutely aware of this and of the fact that the performance of the president at the top of the ticket can tip the final outcome of close House and Senate races across the country. If Donald Trump continues to slip, the panic within his party will continue to intensify, and calls for him to abdicate the top of the ticket will grow louder.
The trouble for those who cannot abide Mr. Trump, however, is that he has already obtained the Republican nomination. The rules of the Republican National Committee only allow the nominee, once officially selected, to be replaced if he vacates his position “by reason of death, declination, or otherwise.” In other words, short of death or incapacitation, the only way that Mr. Trump can give up the nomination is by withdrawing his name from contention himself. Though party officials may pressure him to do so as much as they would like, nothing within the rules permits them to replace the nominee against his will.
It is not completely out-of-bounds to suggest that Mr. Trump might cede the nomination. If his position in the polls worsens to a point where a landslide defeat seems inevitable, he might be willing to give up the nomination to save face. At least, he might calculate, if the person selected to take his place loses, he can say that he would have won the election had he remained in the race. But if he were to stay, pressing on through a devastating defeat in November, Mr. Trump—who talks often about how much of a winner he is—would look like a big loser.
Supposing that Donald Trump does abdicate the nomination, mailing letters to party leaders signaling his intention to exit the race, the Republican National Committee will have two options. First, it could throw together another national convention, an expensive and impractical affair. Second and much more likely, the R.N.C. would convene to decide Mr. Trump’s replacement.
In this scenario, each of the 168 members of the Republican National Committee—made up of three members from every U.S. state and territory—would cast a vote equivalent in point value to a third of her state or territory’s share of primary delegates. As with the national convention, a candidate would need to secure a majority of the weighted votes—or 1,237 “points”—from the committee’s members. This would likely require several rounds of voting.
The committee would fill in the details of this process as necessary. It would decide, for example, how candidates for the nomination are to submit their names for consideration and how serious candidates are to be separated from the chaff. One interview in The Wall Street Journal suggested that the R.N.C. would require each candidate to meet a threshold—perhaps the support of “three or five states”—in order to be considered on the main ballot.
Replacing Mr. Trump as the Republican nominee is highly unlikely for three reasons. First, as presidential elections draw on, the polling positions of the candidates tend to converge. Though this election year could certainly buck this trend, odds are that the Republican nominee will recover most of his losses from the past week as the race goes on, and Mrs. Clinton will give back some of her gains this week by November. Second, even if his polling deficit prevails, Mr. Trump has no obligation to give up the nomination. For him, abdicating may be a non-starter, even if his exit would shield him from a humiliating defeat.
Third, not much time remains to find a new nominee. Each state sets a filing deadline—a date by which political parties must certify the names of their presidential and vice presidential candidates for the November ballot. Several of these deadlines fall in mid-August, with most of the crucial ones situated in late August and early September. If enough deadlines are missed, whoever replaces Mr. Trump would be on the ballot in too few states to have any chance of winning 270 electoral votes and capturing the White House.