Can Republican delegates cancel their freak show?

     Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus is shown answering questions from The Associated Press preceding presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump's meeting with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in May. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)

    Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus is shown answering questions from The Associated Press preceding presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump's meeting with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in May. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)

    Moments after the city of Cleveland ended its 52-year championship drought, I half expected that Donald Trump would tap on Twitter: “Accepting congrats on Cavaliers win. I did it. I did it so well it was beautiful. I win so much I get tired of winning.”

    Hey, would that have been worse than the way he waded through the Orlando blood by patting himself on the back? The good news for the GOP is that a growing number of delegates are trying to rally their brethren to deny Trump the nomination, to cancel the freak show. A rebel movement called Free the Delegates has surfaced virtually overnight, with representatives in roughly 25 states.

    The bad news for the GOP is that even if delegates were to change party rules and vote their consciences — yep, that’s the plan — the party would surely implode. The fervent Trumpers would scream betrayal and go bat-crazy (Trump has warned of “riots”), and the city of Cleveland would quickly say goodbye to its basketball buzz. Basically, Republicans can’t win if they tap Trump, and can’t win if they dump Trump.

    Still, it’s refreshing to learn that dozens of delegates willingly admit that they can’t support a racist charlatan who doesn’t have the money, staff talent, or basic infrastructure to wage a competitive campaign. This morning, in an apparent bid to quell the turmoil, Trump fired campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, which prompted Trump’s New York director to tweet, “Ding dong the witch is dead!”

    Or maybe that’s just a reshuffling of deck chairs on the Titanic. Trump is being crushed by Hillary Clinton on the Electoral College map; he’s in such deep trouble in Utah — which hasn’t gone blue since 1964 — that he has vowed to campaign there after the convention. In Utah. While Hillary and her well-funded, well-organized allies are relentlessly pounding him with ads in the swing states.

    Trump insisted the other day that the Free the Delegates rebellion is just a media “hoax.” In truth, the rebellion is being fomented by actual humans like Colorado delegate Regina Thompson, who told other delegates last night, during a conference call, “We want you to be proud to tell your children and grandchildren that the person we have nominated and are ready to elect as president is a moral person who will take seriously the oath of office.”

    More than 1000 people — including many delegates and alternates — joined that conference call. The goal is to persuade the GOP’s Rules Committee to “unbind” the delegates, to allow them to vote their consciences even if it means defying the primary results in their states. Kendal Unruh, another Colorado rebel and a member of the Rules panel, says she wants to give the delegates “a permission slip from mom.” She says that even though she has “fallen in line” as a loyal Republican in past election years, “I just can’t do it this time,” because what’s at stake “is the future of our party.”

    The rebels even got a tacit boost from Paul Ryan, who continues to straddle the fence in excrutiating fashion, endorsing Trump while rebuking Trump’s toxicities. On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Ryan said: “The last thing I would do is tell anybody to do something that’s contrary to their conscience.” 

    The hurdles are daunting, however. Some of the state parties are pressuring rebel delegates to abide by the primary results; in North Carolina, rebels are being threatened with monetary fines. One delegate, who joined the conference call last night, said that these threats are “definitely going to affect very many people who are not going to be willing to step up.”

    The rebels have crafted a party resolution (“each such delegate shall be unbound and unconstrained”), but it needs to win a majority of votes on the 112-member Rules panel. Then it would need to be ratified by a majority of delegates on the convention floor. That sounds implausible, given the fact that Trump was the people’s choice during primary season, racking up a Republican record-high 13 million votes. Worse yet, the rebel delegates don’t have an alternative candidate – a uniter who could hose down the Trumpers. (Apparently no such person exists. That’s been the problem all along.)

    But regardless of whether the delegate rebellion lives or dies, it’s a symptom of the GOP’s serious illness. The party hasn’t been this sick since 1964, when the establishment wing tried and failed at the eleventh hour to stop conservative firebrand (and imminent landslide loser) Barry Goldwater. Heck, at least Goldwater, unlike the ’16 presumptive nominee, had firm convictions and a long record of public service. At least he didn’t campaign for president while being sued for fraud, while bring exposed week by week as a deadbeat who screwed small businesses and failed to pay his bills.

    So, no, Trump didn’t tweet self-congratulations after the Cavaliers won the NBA championship. But GOP chairman Reince Priebus, Trump’s irrepressible poodle, quickly spread the word:

    Congrats to the @cavs! This team is just the first winner Cleveland will produce this summer!

    — GOP (@GOP) June 20, 2016

    Turns out, the real tweet was way funnier.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.