What Happens If Donald Trump Drops Out? Here's How the GOP Would Pick a Replacement

What Happens If Donald Trump Drops Out? Here's How the GOP Would Pick a Replacement

In the past 48 hours, Donald Trump has attacked the parents of a dead soldier, the Republican speaker of the House, a baby, the party's 2008 presidential nominee and a sitting U.S. senator.

The backlash against this barrage of self-inflicted wounds is impressive in scale even for Trump, who became the GOP standard-bearer in large part by steering the party's sacred cows straight to the slaughterhouse. The latest barrage of negative news has predictably kicked off another round of hand-wringing among anti-Trump Republicans, who are reportedly exploring their options for replacing Trump as their party's nominee. 

Citing unnamed sources, ABC News reported Wednesday that "senior party officials are so frustrated — and confused — by Donald Trump's erratic behavior that they are exploring how to replace him on the ballot if he drops out."

Additionally, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani are "hoping to talk the real estate mogul into a dramatic reset of his campaign in the coming days," according to NBC News.

The prospect of a Trump-less Republican ticket appearing on the ballot in November is highly unlikely. But the consternation among Republicans does raise several questions: What happens if Trump does back out? Does the Republican establishment have any way to force Trump from the ticket?

No turning back: On the latter question, the answer is no. Trump, after all, was officially crowned the party's nominee in Cleveland in July, and thus would need to drop out voluntarily in order for the party to put forth a different candidate.

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Trump has no interest in exiting the race, and every interest in proving the losers and the haters wrong by winning in November. He will undoubtedly wave off any attempts by party leaders to pressure him into dropping out. The campaign reported Wednesday it had $74 million cash on hand between the campaign and joint fundraising committees, so Trump has the resources to continue the race.

However, if for some reason Trump did decide to drop out, the Republican Party has processes in place to select a replacement. Rule 9 of the party's rules dictates what happens should there be a vacancy on the ticket, due to the death of a nominee or his or her voluntary exit. 

Rule 9 reads as follows:

(a) The Republican National Committee is hereby authorized and empowered to fill any and all vacancies which may occur by reason of death, declination, or otherwise of the Republican candidate for President of the United States or the Republican candidate for Vice President of the United States, as nominated by the national convention, or the Republican National Committee may reconvene the national convention for the purpose of filling any such vacancies.

In short, the 168-member Republican National Committee can vote on a replacement presidential or vice presidential nominee, or call a new convention where delegates would pick a replacement. Subsequent provisions in the rule dictate how many votes each member would receive based on their state, and stipulate that the replacement must get a majority of the vote.

ABC News reported that party officials have been advised by experts that "Trump would have to drop out by early September to give the party enough time to choose his replacement and get the next nominee's name on the ballot in enough states to win."

As for who that next nominee would be, House Speaker Paul Ryan would shoot to the top of the list of candidates. Ryan enjoys broad support in the party and was often floated as a consensus "white horse" savior prior to the convention, where he delivered a well-received speech touting his agenda. Lately he has walked a fine line between criticizing Trump and maintaining his endorsement, a conflict that flared up yet again Tuesday.

No Republican nominee has ever been replaced between the convention and Election Day. In 1912, James Sherman, the sitting vice president, died just days before voters went to the polls. Sherman's name remained on the ballot and the party would have selected a replacement after the election had President Howard Taft won reelection.

The closest precedent occurred in 1972 in the Democratic Party, which has different rules for filling vacancies. In that case, Sen. Thomas Eagleton was selected and nominated at the Democratic National Convention as Sen. George McGovern's running mate, only to drop out several weeks later following revelations that he had been hospitalized for depression. McGovern then selected Sargent Shriver to replace Eagleton, and went on to get crushed by President Richard Nixon.

For now, Trump isn't going anywhere. As the GOP's presidential nominee, he alone would have to decide back out in order for the party to put forth a different candidate. But the fact that Republicans are gaming out how to wrestle back the nomination from Trump even after the convention underscores what an unpredictable year 2016 has been.