Can anyone save the GOP? It might be too late

A voter casts her ballot in the primary election Tuesday, March 15, 2016, at an American Legion Hall in Marengo, Ohio. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Despite the House Speaker Paul Ryan's (R-Wisconsin) insistence that he will not be entering the fray of the 2016 presidential campaign, his name continues to bubble up in conversations regarding a potential 'hail Mary' candidate.

The most recent wave of Ryan 2016 speculation came Tuesday, with the rumor mill suggesting that GOP elites are banking on Paul Ryan emerging from the GOP convention as their nominee.

"Charles Koch is confident House Speaker Paul Ryan could emerge from the Republican National Convention as the party's nominee if Donald Trump comes up at least 100 delegates shy," The Huffington Post's Ryan Grim and Sam Stein reported sourcing friends Koch has spoken with privately.

"Koch believes Ryan would be a 'shoo-in' at a contested convention, should the campaign get to that point," Grim and Stein wrote.

Getting to that point, some experts said seems increasingly likely as the convention approaches.

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"With each passing week, a contested convention looks more and more likely," said Robert Schmuhl, Professor and Walter H. Annenberg-Edmund P. Joyce Chair in American Studies and Journalism at University of Notre Dame.

"Republicans started with a strong and crowded field, but at this point the negatives of the remaining candidates, chiefly Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, outnumber the positives."

"The odds on [a brokered convention] change almost daily when there are contest going on," explained Greg Magarian Professor of Law at Washington University Law.

The likelihood of the brokered convention depends on a couple of variables, Magarian explained. There is the "technical question," of whether someone is able to get the needed majority. The other variable would be how from the majority would Trump be in order to avert efforts to derail him.

"It would be remarkable," Magarian said if a brokered convention were to occur.

"The whole system is designed largely to avoid that kind of messiness," Magarain explained.

Commenting that "it's a very strange political time," Schmuhl described how "the most recent convention with genuine drama to it was the 1976 Republican one in Kansas City."

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In that race, "Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan competed right to the end, and Reagan tried to pull out a victory against the incumbent Ford,"Schmuhl explained.

"Reagan didn't prevail that year, but he was well-positioned for 1980, when he did win the nomination and the November election."

A brokered convention is "almost unheard of in the era of direct nomination," according to Daniel P. Franklin, Associate Professor of Political Science at Georgia State University.

Leading candidates tend to roll up delegates and win very early on. We're quite late in the election, Franklin noted, adding that the electorate is much more split than it once was.

"The obvious answer is either Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney," would be turned to in the event of a brokered convention, Franklin said.

"Paul Ryan might have a better claim," Franklin said.

Schmuhl questioned if it was too late for Romney. "Mitt Romney could have had a big impact on the 2016 race, but he stayed on the sidelines when he could have gotten involved," Schmuhl said.

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"All eyes will be on Speaker Ryan," in the event of a brokered convention this year, Schmuhl said.

"He answered the call from Republicans to become Speaker of the House when John Boehner decided to resign last year, and a similar process might occur in July."

As Schmuhl speculated, "as he did when he became Speaker, he'll let others speak up on his behalf and, in effect, draft him from the sidelines to center stage."

"He won't enter the race on his own," Schmuhl said.

"He'll be pushed."

Ryan who is "more calculating and ambitious than he lets on, is running the same playbook he did to become speaker: saying he doesn't want it, that it won't happen," Politico's Mike Allen wrote.

"In both cases, the maximum leverage is to not want it and to be begged to do it. He and his staff are trying to be as Shermanesque as it gets."

Ryan has repeated his disinterest as recently as Monday, telling radio host Hugh Hewitt that he will not be getting involved, Allen noted.

"In this environment, saying you don't want the job is the only way to get it. If he was seen to be angling for it, he'd be stained and disqualified by the current mess," Allen wrote.

"But Ryan, 46, a likable Midwesterner, could look too tempting to resist as Republicans finally focus on a beatable Hillary Clinton."

Describing Clinton as the likely nominee, Franklin suggested her camp prepare to face someone other than Trump in the general election.

"I think that the Democrats ought to get ready to face someone other than Trump," Franklin said, acknowledging how they're likely looking forward to facing Trump in the general.

"Particularly because of Trump's misogyny -- if he can't win women he's going to lose and lose big," Franklin said.

Franklin said he was "beginning to get the sense Republicans will maneuver [Trump] out of the race."

Acknowledging he has no background for that Franklin reiterated that he has gotten the sense "they're trying to get away," from a Trump candidacy.

"He may start losing races down the line and something will happen to maneuver him out of the race."

Franklin noted that with Ryan, there will be a closer race against presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton.

"It'll be a closer race and protect Republicans down ticket if they have a nominee they can vote for," Franklin said.

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Democrats, Franklin argued, have a natural advantage if twenty percent of Republican voters don't turn out. If they don't Franklin said that "hurts down ticket races."

"Ryan might argue he has to run to protect members of Congress," Franklin said, referencing how Bob Dole campaigned in California trying to protect down ticket races when he ran against Bill Clinton.

Describing Ryan's appeal, Schmuhl said Ryan is a desirable candidate because "he's smart, young, conservative and popular."

"Ted Cruz has the first three qualities--smart, young and conservative--but he's the antithesis of popular with Washington people and others in the party establishment," Schmuhl explained.

"If Cruz stumbles, many Republicans--including fellow senators--will cheer his fall."

Describing Ryan's appeal as a candidate, Franklin compared his assets to that of Marco Rubio. "He's the future of the party," Franklin said adding that he's a sort of "blank slate," who people do not know extremely well.

While conventional wisdom mandates that Ryan would come into the race at an "enormous disadvantage," given how late he's entering the race, Magarian explained his fresh face will carry one benefit.

"In this weird unprecedented scenario," Magarian said, there is an opportunity to take advantage of being a fresh face. As Speaker of the House Ryan has credibility and can stand up against Clinton, who Magarian described as "the most known political commodity other than people who have been president."

"I can imagine a world in which Ryan could exploit that," Magarian said cautioning that "the whole array of structural disadvantages would overtake," that advantage.

"He would face some headwinds, I think," Magarian added.

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One of the main challenges Ryan faces is that no one has cast a ballot for him. As Centre Daily's Lesley Clark noted, recently released polling found that a majority of Republican voters "want any contested convention to be off limits to politicians who didn't first run in the primaries - such as House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin or 2012 nominee Mitt Romney."

"Paul Ryancan't ride in to save the GOP," The Washington Post's Paul Waldman explained that "nominating Ryan brings its own set of difficulties."

Chief among them, Waldman wrote is "that a contested convention where party leaders install their own candidate against the will of their voters will validate everything those voters have come to believe about the establishment."

Ryan has positioned himself in a sort of "sweet spot between tea party and establishment," Franklin said.

"He, at this point, looks like the savior."

Franklin noted that Republicans are in a tough spot where if they deny Donald Trump the nomination the lose his supporters.

"[Republicans are in a] really tough space," Franklin said if they allow Trump to become the nominee. Regardless, Franklin added "I don't know how Ryan pulls the trump supporters in to the fold."

However, Franklin returned to the fact that Ryan "hasn't run in any primaries."

"He's going run into the Cruz, Kasich [and] Trump supporters who say they have a legitimate choice."

Ryan, Franklin suggested, needs to confront the question of whether or not he can actually win.

"Things are looking bad for the Republicans," Franklin said.

"Losing two elections is not really a great thing," Franklin said, noting that Ryan is young and is establishing a resume as Speaker of the House.

Having run as Mitt Romney's Vice Presidential nominee in 2012, a second failed Presidential bid may hurt Ryan's chance of running a successful campaign for The White House with a little more time as Speaker under his belt.

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"You start looking like yesterday's news," after losing a second election, Franklin warned.

"If I were him I'd be reluctant," Franklin said.

A more likely alternative is that "at the end of the day it'll be a Trump/Kasich ticket or a Cruz/Kasich ticket, something like that," Franklin said.

"Kasich is kind of is the perfect VP candidate," Franklin said.

"I really see it being either Trump/Kasich or Cruz/Kasich," Franklin said.

If Trump is winning outright he'll choose his own Vice President, Franklin added.

"Who knows," who that Vice Presidential selection would be, Franklin said, adding that he had "no earthly idea."

"We are in a very unique political environment," Franklin said.

"We're in the process of seeing party realignment particularly in the Republican party," Franklin described.

"That makes for very unpredictable outcomes."

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