Why the Stop Trump Movement is Doomed

Donald Trump speaks at Florida rally
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop in Tampa, Florida February 12, 2016. Mike Carlson/Reuters

With big wins tonight, Donald Trump is marching towards the nomination. Might he show up in Cleveland at the Republican Convention, a few delegates short of a majority? Sure. Will John Kasich and Ted Cruz claim they have a claim on the nomination? You bet. But Trump's likely to be close enough to the magic 1237 number of delegates needed for the nomination that he can't be denied. Party leaders may fume but in the end they're not going to be able to tell the winner of the popular vote and the most delegates to go home. It's happened before and the lessons are unlikely but instructive.

It's hard to think of two politicians who are more different than George McGovern and Donald Trump. A soft spoken former history professor, a bomber pilot during World War II, the South Dakota senator was the standard bearer for liberalism and the Democratic nominee for President in 1972. That's a tad different than the man behind Trump Steaks, "The Apprentice," and the headline "Best Sex I Ever Had." But the two have something in common. Each lit a prairie fire during their long shot bid for president, each racked up primary wins and then faced the opposition of their party big shots and predictions that their nomination would be a disaster.. It's a telling example and one that should bolster the spirits of Trump supporters even if they think of McGovern--if they think of him at all--as a wussy liberal.

McGovern was a known quantity in 1972. He was in his second term as a Senator, having worked in the Kennedy administration. That year, lots of bigger names in the Democratic party were trying for the nomination. Ed Muskie had been the vice presidential nominee four years earlier, Alabama Governor George Wallace, just four years after his third-party bid for president had returned to the Democratic fold and there were tons of others from New York Mayor John Lindsay to Henry "Scoop" Jackson the hawkish senator from Washington State.

But only McGovern captured the spirit of the times. He was the most antiwar of the candidates. He did well with youth and blacks. It was more a cause than a campaign. His motto, "Come Home, America" was a none-too-subtle reference to pulling American troops out of Vietnam. He also campaigned for big defense cuts.

As the South Dakotan moved closer to the nomination, an "Anybody But McGovern"--ABC--movement sprung up. It was lead by labor unions, southern politicians (including the Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter) and more conservative Democrats who were in disarray following the assassination attempt on Wallace that Spring that left him paralyzed. They tried to block McGovern's winner-take-all victory in California and get the delegates awarded to former Vice President Hubert Humphrey who had entered the race. At the convention, Carter gave an impassioned speech for "Scoop" Jackson. AFL-CIO Boss George Meany made it clear he wouldn't back McGovern. In the end, through some deft parliamentary maneuvers, McGovern sealed the deal at the convention in Miami Beach and then was crushed by Richard Nixon that fall. McGovern carried only one state, Massachusetts, although the Watergate scandal made many McGovern voters proud. A popular bumper sticker at the time: "Don't Blame Me, I voted for McGovern." .

McGovern showed that in a modern party convention, it's still very hard to stop the leader. Ronald Reagan trailed in 1976 behind incumbent president Gerald Ford and was never quite able to make it over the top. The idea that a convention will suddenly elevate a third place finisher or some White Knight outsider like a Mitt Romney is romantic but unrealistic. Were Trump to lose lots of the late primaries that might shake confidence. But all that happened on Tuesday is that he lost Ohio to a popular governor of the state. Otherwise, he destroyed Marco Rubio in Florida, took home Illinois and, at the time of this writing, very competitive in Missouri and North Carolina. If his juggernaut continues the mogul will handily defeat #NeverTrump, Stop Trump, Anybody but Trump or whatever you want to call it.