Talk of Trump quitting race creates media buzz, but it's likely 'absurd'

Certainly it's been a bad week for Donald Trump — a series of controversial comments sparked a series of bad headlines, all feeding into the narrative that his campaign is imploding. Now come reports that key Republicans are preparing to replace him. But how likely is that?

Frustrated senior Republicans reportedly exploring options to replace Trump on ballot

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump would have to withdraw from the race to no longer be the Republican candidate. Any attempt to force him to leave would likely be futile, experts say. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Republican National Committee member Morton Blackwell believes all this talk of Donald Trump possibly dropping out of the presidential race is akin to the never-realized plot to dump the controversial candidate at the party's convention in July.

It made for some good headlines, but in the end, it was just a lot of noise with no real chance of coming to fruition.

"I think there is no substance to it and I think anybody who knows Donald Trump ... knows that the idea that he would withdraw his candidacy is absurd," Blackwell said.

Absurd, perhaps, but in a campaign that has been unconventional and unprecedented from the start, nothing can truly be taken off the table.  

Certainly it's been a bad week for Trump — a series of controversial comments sparked a series of bad headlines, all feeding into the narrative that his campaign, and the candidate himself, are imploding.

From a public spat with the Muslim family of a dead U.S. soldier, to eyebrow-raising claims that the election will be rigged, to his refusal to endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan and Arizona Senator John McCain in their primary races — Trump's actions have dominated the news cycle. (On Friday night, Trump publicly endorsed Ryan and McCain).

So too did reports that some key Republicans have defected to his rival's campaign.

Since Trump announced his candidacy, a small contingent of prominent conservatives has vowed not to vote for him — the so-called #NeverTrumpers. Although many of them are undecided as to exactly what they'll do on election day, a few party loyalists are so concerned about a Trump presidency they've publicly pledged their support for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

'Country first before party'

Hewlett Packard executive Meg Whitman, a Republican Party fundraiser who ran for governor of California, said she supports Clinton and will help her raise money. Trump, she told the New York Times, is a "dishonest demagogue" and the Republicans need to put "country first before party."

Hewlett Packard executive Meg Whitman, a Republican Party fundraiser, says she supports Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. (The Associated Press)

Richard Hanna became the first sitting Republican congressman to say he would vote for Clinton. The representative from New York said Trump is "unfit to serve our party and cannot lead this country."

Key advisers to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Florida governor Jeb Bush also declared they're ditching the party to support Clinton. 

Then came a Fox News poll: Trump is trailing Clinton by 10 points, results immediately seized upon by anti-Trump conservatives, who for months have argued his candidacy is doomed in the general election.

There was also talk of an intervention, that senior Republicans who backed Trump, including Republican National Committee head Reince Priebus, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, hope to convince him to reset his campaign and get back on message, NBC News reported.

And in the wake of the barrage of negative headlines, Republican defections and bad poll numbers, ABC News reported that senior party officials have become so frustrated with Trump, they've actually begun exploring their options to replace him on the ballot if he withdraws from the race.

And withdrawal would be the only way that Trump would no longer be the Republican candidate because any attempt to force him to leave would likely be futile.

Some have suggested there is a possibility, however small, that members of the Republican National Committee could force Trump out. They point to Rule 9 of the party bylaws, which says the committee is "authorized and empowered to fill any and all vacancies which may occur by reason of death, declination, or otherwise." 

They argue the word "otherwise" may give the committee some wiggle room, and that the candidacy could be declared vacant because leading members of the committee feel Trump is unfit to lead.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is one of the senior Republicans hoping to help Trump reset his campaign, according to reports. (John Locher/Associated Press)

But James Bopp, a top U.S. constitutional scholar and conservative attorney, firmly rejects that notion. 

"There is no authority under our rules to remove a candidate, period," Bopp said. "It doesn't matter what the reason. How compelling or not. There's no authority to do that." 

But what if Trump decided to throw in the towel? 

Any vacancy would be filled either by reconvening the national convention — highly unlikely — or by the Republican National Committee, said Joshua Putnam, political science professor at the University of Georgia.

'Choose anybody they wanted'

In the case of the latter, the three committee members from each state would be responsible for choosing a replacement. 

"They could choose anybody they wanted," said Hans Noel, an associate professor of political science at Georgetown University. "Of course they need to choose someone who will appear to be legitimate."

That means Trump's running mate Mike Pence would be a strong contender, as would any of the party's former candidates.

But the process would be further complicated by the fact that each state has its own set of electoral rules and deadlines.

In the unlikely event Trump were to withdraw from the campaign, his vice-presidential candidate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, would likely be a strong contender to replace him. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)

"This is a very complicated question that involves the state law of every state and District of Columbia," Bopp said. "What happens when you have a vacancy? How is it filled and what are the legal requirements to get on the ballot in each one of those states?"

But if Trump is actually thinking about calling it quits — a big "if" indeed — his fundraising numbers for July might give him pause. His campaign took in $80 million for the month, not far off Clinton's $90-million haul.

And despite all the chatter and speculation, it's still very early in the race. 

 "We are in August people," Amy Walter wrote for the Cook Political Report. "There is a long way to go until November."


Mark Gollom


Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?