Would the Republican establishment -- the Mitch McConnells of the world, in other words -- dare to try to engineer the nomination of someone other than Ted Cruz or Donald Trump? Would they dare to stiff-arm not just one but both of their leading candidates and try to hand the nod to a mysterious third candidate?
I'm beginning to think they would. I'm beginning to think they might at least try.
In an interview with a Kentucky TV station over the weekend, McConnell dropped several hints to that effect.
At one point, McConnell told the interviewer that he was "increasingly optimistic" that no one would win a first-ballot victory, thus throwing the convention open and forcing multiple ballots before a nominee emerges. (See the 5:50 mark above.) Since Trump is the only candidate with even a chance of a first-ballot victory, the majority leader's statement can be taken as a clear indication that he doesn't want Trump as the GOP nominee.
The natural alternative would then be Cruz. But given the bone-deep animosity between McConnell and Cruz, I have a hard time believing that McConnell would be expressing pleasure over the possibility of Cruz as the GOP's nominee. It's possible, but unlikely.
Indeed, at another point in the interview (6:15), McConnell was asked whether one of the three remaining candidates -- Trump, Cruz and John Kasich -- will be the nominee, or whether an outside candidate would emerge.
"That'll be up to the delegates," McConnell said.
"I want somebody who can win," McConnell went on. "The whole process is about trying to beat Hillary Clinton in November. And I think our delegates -- if they end up having the actual latitude to make a decision, which would occur on the second or third ballot -- are going to be interested in who can win."
Does McConnell think that Cruz, the most hated person in Washington, the fellow Republican who publicly called him a liar on the Senate floor, the senator who built his reputation by attacking McConnell as a traitor to conservatism, is "somebody who can win" in the fall? Is McConnell really hoping for an open convention so that he can help engineer Cruz's ascension to the nomination?
I don't think so. McConnell is not a man who surrenders grudges easily, and I think he has something quite different in mind. If I were to take this admitted speculation one step further, I'd say that "something quite different" might end up being Marco Rubio. Is that a crazy idea? Absolutely it is. But at this point, all the non-crazy outcomes have already been eliminated.