US Elections 2016

Trump in pow wow today with party leaders

Anti-Trump protesters at a campaign rally in Lynden, Washington, earlier this week.
Anti-Trump protesters at a campaign rally in Lynden, Washington, earlier this week.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Both sides seeking unity ahead of the main event in November

Controversial real estate developer Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for the US presidency, meets the party's congressional leaders today as both sides seek unity ahead of the November general election.

In the week since Mr Trump emerged as the last man standing in the nomination race, deep splits have emerged among party leaders over whether or not to get behind the businessman.

While some have swallowed previous criticisms of the man and closed ranks, many others remain either on the sidelines or firmly opposed to his nomination. Some have even continued to float ideas on how to derail what seems like an inevitable nomination for the mogul.

Today's meeting is aimed at trying to bridge that divide, especially given that the top Republican in the House of Representatives, Speaker Paul Ryan, has said he is not yet prepared to back Mr Trump.

But with Mr Trump proudly proclaiming that he does not need to unite the entire party, some are beginning to question if the tycoon - who has got this far without the support of the party elite - actually needs them now.

Unfortunately for Mr Trump, most observers agree that he does need the party's support if he is to have any hope of winning the presidency. Party unity still does matter.

At the most superficial level, the symbolism of your own party members rejecting you would make it difficult for a candidate to appeal to a broader audience.

Then, there is the problem of being a nominee who has to constantly look out for attacks from within.

There has been talk in the past week of Republicans launching a third-party candidate or trying to change the rules to the extent that they allow delegates to pick whoever they want, even if Mr Trump does get the 1,237 delegates he needs.

Senator Ted Cruz, who dropped out earlier, has refused to rule out the possibility of restarting his campaign. Though Mr Trump is the only active candidate, both his and Mr Cruz's names will appear on some of the upcoming state primary ballots. Voters - at lower numbers - will continue to turn out as the ballot includes other local races. So it is possible, though unprecedented, for an inactive candidate to win a primary.

"The reason we suspended the race last week is that with Indiana's loss, I didn't see a viable path to victory. If that changes, we will certainly respond accordingly," said Mr Cruz.

While that is unlikely now to pose much of a realistic threat to Mr Trump, party fracturing does present a hurdle when it comes to funding and logistics.

"Above all he needs money from the party, since he said he will not be self-financing and he will need much more than he needed to spend in the primaries," said James Madison University political science expert Marty Cohen, who co-authored The Party Decides, a book on the role of the party in picking a nominee.

"Also, the party can provide campaign infrastructure, especially a get-out-the-vote operation that will be key if he is to compete with the Democrats."

Though Mr Trump is personally wealthy, it is unlikely he will be able to spend of the magnitude needed to be competitive. For instance, President Barack Obama's re-election campaign in 2012 spent nearly US$700 million (S$958 million)and Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton is expected to spend even more than that this year.

Professor Glenn Altschuler of Cornell University said Mr Trump's unorthodox campaign has sealed the nomination without building up the traditional apparatus that a candidate would need for the larger contest to come.

For that, he is going to need people like state governors or party officials to run operations at a local level. The worry for Mr Trump is not so much that they will not vote for him, but rather that they will vote but will not knock on doors or help raise money.

Prof Altschuler said: "When a party is divided and party professionals are not enthusiastic, generally speaking, candidates do not win."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2016, with the headline 'Trump in pow wow today with party leaders'. Print Edition | Subscribe