Donald Trump in Louisville on Super Tuesday

Republicans are no longer in denial over Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of their party; how could they be? They are certainly angry—how could they not be?—but after Trump rolled through Super Tuesday practically unabated, the GOP establishment has entered the third stage of grief: bargaining.

In this stage, Republicans have given up on squarely beating Trump at the polls. Instead, the strategy that crystalized last night is to at least prevent Trump from amassing the number of delegates required to secure the nomination, and then usurp him at the party’s convention in Cleveland. This last tactic of desperation had been whispered about previously—yesterday, Marco Rubio’s top advisor reportedly told fundraisers that Rubio will have to win the nomination at the convention—but last night some party heavyweights began to speak of subterfuge out in the open.

Speaking to Chris Matthews on MSNBC, ex-House majority leader Tom Delay circuitously explained the reasoning:

All you guys who say Trump is the nominee are going to have egg on your face later on, because the prize is 1,237 delegates. The popular vote is only important in allocating delegates. 60 percent of the delegates in the Republican convention will be picked proportionately, so if Trump never gets 40 percent in each state... tonight he’ll only get 250 delegates—

Matthews then cut him off with his standard spittle-laced incredulousness. “So no one has to beat him for him to lose?” he honked. “That’s right,” Delay replied. Matthews again: “You’re saying the party can actually nominate someone who is not the leader in the primaries?” Delay:

If that someone does not have 1,237 delegates heading into the convention then all hell could break loose.

Delay reigned in the GOP at the time in which—counter to the popular vote—George W. Bush stole the 2000 presidential election from Al Gore, which may explain his confidence in the ability of the GOP establishment to achieve its aims by any means necessary.

But this exchange neatly summarizes current establishment Republican headspace. When Matthews asks Delay how the party can wrest the nomination away from Trump, he means how they can do it without it being a political murder-suicide. Republicans like Delay want to hear it as a math question.

This is the last gasp of the defeated. “All of it’s been thrown out with Trump in the race,” Delay says of party traditions and standards. When pressed to cite some sort of precedent for a major American party denying the wishes of its voters at convention Delay says “it’s not precedent, it’s following the rules.” This might be the clearest example of Trump’s terrorization of the Republican party: he is compelling them to play by the rules.

Later in the interview, when asked whether he would support Donald Trump if he was the nominee, Delay said he “would have to search my soul.” “He will tear the Republican Party apart,” Delay stated, with no recognition of that sort of being the point.

Meanwhile, other Republicans are doing a different sort of bargaining. Though a certain wisdom holds that each candidate—from Cruz and Rubio on down to Kasich and Carson—needs to stay in the race in order to suck every possible delegate away from Trump, some in the party are thinking of consolidating behind a single candidate. This strategy was, unsurprisingly, offered up by Ted Cruz himself during his celebratory speech in Texas last night, where he called for the party’s other candidates, who have combined to win only a single state (Rubio’s quiet triumph in Minnesota), to “prayerfully consider uniting.”

Though uniting behind Cruz would be its own specific sort of disaster, his charms—whatever they are—might be starting to work. Well, kind of. Via The Hill:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says the Republican Party may be forced to support presidential hopeful Ted Cruz in order to stop front-runner Donald Trump.

“You know Ted Cruz is not my favorite, by any means,” Graham, who dropped his own bid for the White House in December, said in an interview with CBS. “But we may be in a position where we have to rally around Ted Cruz as the only way to stop Donald Trump, and I’m not so sure that would work.”

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