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Myers: How the GOP can trim Trump’s sails

I wonder if the convention will let Trump pick his own vice president.

I ask the question because it’s an interesting little experiment going on in our national political laboratory – a bigoted, reckless Republican who is liberal on economic and social issues has used his personal fortune to buy the Republican presidential nomination while trashing GOP leaders and running up massive unpopularity with the public.

The newest NBC poll indicates the public holds Donald Trump in greater contempt, believe it or not, than presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Most of the public either “dislikes” or “hates” both candidates – a majority! – but a bigger majority feels that way about Trump.

It’s an indication of what has happened to politics that the term “hate” as applied to our potential national leaders even appears in mainstream discourse.

Normally the presidential candidate chooses his own running mate. But there have been exceptions and the circumstances of those exceptions are interesting when applied to 2016. If the party took the decision on the vice presidency for itself, there would be advantages for the leaders and delegates who have endured Trump’s behavior for the past year. The delegates making the choice would be one way for the party to reassert itself over Trump.

In 1920 a group of party bosses met in a hotel room in Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel and selected Warren Harding to be the presidential candidate, then imposed that choice on the national convention delegates. Once Harding was nominated, the party bosses then chose Sen. Irvine Lenroot of Wisconsin for vice president.

But the delegates were feeling bruised and pushed around by the bosses. When Lenroot’s name was presented, someone on the floor of the convention reacted by shouting, “Coolidge!” The delegates took up the cry. Massachusetts Gov. Calvin Coolidge had impressed the party by breaking a police strike in Boston. Lenroot was beaten by Coolidge before the bosses knew what hit them. “For once delegates have their own way,” was a Chicago Tribune headline.

In 2016, Republican delegates are feeling pretty overrun and pushed around, not by boss rule but by money and celebrity that have made the party look foolish.

Nevada delegate Lee Hoffman of Elko, for instance, is planning for vote for Trump because he believes the billionaire has earned the nomination, but Trump was about the last candidate Hoffman wanted. “Personally, I liked Scott Walker, then Ben Carson, then Ted Cruz,” he told the Las Vegas Sun. He’s not bound to anyone for VICE president.

If they chose carefully, the delegates could elevate another, more responsible and respected Republican to the only other elected national office in the land, a leader who would be independent of Trump and could speak for the party if Trump turns out to be, you know – himself.

Besides, it would be exciting television for the party. In 1956, Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson decided not to choose the vice presidential nominee himself and threw the choice open to the convention.

In a single day, candidates like Estes Kefauver, Albert Gore (the real one), John Kennedy, and Hubert Humphrey scrambled to throw campaigns together and the delegates suddenly found themselves being courted. It was the last time a nominating race went beyond the first ballot and all unfolded on television. It was also the highlight of the political year.

The lead in the race seesawed as Kefauver and the little-known Kennedy traded the lead. On the second ballot, Kennedy was within a handful of votes of winning. Lyndon Johnson announced the Texas vote for Kennedy, the “fighting sailor who bears the scars of battle.”

But Kefauver had a stronger base in the party and overtook Kennedy. At that point, Kennedy spoke to the convention. He said Kefauver “will serve as an admirable running mate for Gov. Stevenson” and added that “what has happened today bears out the good judgment of Gov. Stevenson in deciding that this issue should be taken to the floor of the convention, because I believe that the Democratic Party will go from this convention far stronger for what we have done here today.”

Denying Trump the presidential nomination would just enrage his followers. But there’s nothing stopping Republican leaders from making sure that they have some control over him by choosing their own VICE president.

Dennis Myers is an award-winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.

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