WASHINGTON (AP) — Dumping Trump at next month's Republican national convention? Highly dubious, but not prohibitively implausible.
The GOP was already distressed by Donald Trump's comments about Hispanics, women, the disabled and others. Now, it's been driven to near-despair over his belittling of a Mexican-American judge as incapable of fairly handling a Trump lawsuit.
That's fed talk of using the party's July gathering in Cleveland to find a different presidential nominee.
So far it's just limited chatter, at least publicly. But with party leaders already flashing mixed messages about the billionaire's candidacy — House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., belatedly endorsed him but labeled his comments "racist" — any more rhetorical bombs that Trump tosses could cause opposition to him to snowball.
Here's how the party could derail Trump and why it's improbable, at least now:
Trump has 1,542 delegates, according to The Associated Press' count, including 1,447 pledged under current GOP rules to vote for him at the convention. That's well above the 1,237 delegates needed for the nomination and more than double the 559 of his nearest rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Measured another way, Trump has amassed 13.4 million votes in primaries, well above Cruz' 7.7 million.
Those numbers add up to one word: Winner.
Some Republicans think Trump can't win, will drag down the party's congressional candidates with him and inflict long-term damage to the party's appeal to women and minorities. Control of the Senate, and less likely the House, are at also stake in November's election.
But while open talk of finding a different nominee is limited, it's out there.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said this week that Trump's denigration of the judge "might spur" talk of finding another candidate. He noted that Trump's 70th birthday is approaching and said, "It's tough to change. And he certainly hasn't shown any signs that he's going to."
"What does Trump have to do or say for the party to disassociate itself from him?" asked Rory Cooper, senior adviser to the Never Trump political committee.
And conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt said on his show that Trump should be dropped because "the plane is headed toward the mountain."
One way to stop someone from winning a game is to change the rules.
Mechanically, if not politically, that's possible in Cleveland next month. The procedures governing the convention will be whatever a majority of its 2,472 delegates approve.
Current rules, which they seem likely to adopt, give the nomination to whoever wins a majority of their votes.
GOP rules experts say that to block Trump, one option is to set a higher threshold than he currently can reach, such as requiring a two-thirds margin.
That would only be needed for the first ballot. If no candidate wins the nomination by then, most delegates are free to vote for anyone in the second and succeeding rounds of voting.
Another option: Let all delegates immediately support whoever they'd like.
Though it's widely disputed, some say current rules already let delegates back anybody. That would mean no changes would be needed.
"The primaries are baloney" and award candidates "bragging rights," not committed delegates, said Curly Haugland of North Dakota, a member of the Republican National Committee.
THE PROBLEM WITH BLOCKING TRUMP
Though the GOP is already torn, many believe booting Trump is politically unrealistic because it would deepen the party's rifts and is probably impossible anyway. Ignoring the millions who've voted for him is politically unthinkable, they say.
"The American people have spoken on this, and I think, as a party, we better listen to them," said Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb.
Trump campaign senior adviser Ed Brookover said Friday there's enough delegate support to block any rules changes that would deny Trump the nomination. He provided no specific figures.
"We have stopped counting" the number of delegates supporting Trump "because of the control we believe we have," he said.
If Trump has a majority of delegates, does he really have to worry about rules changes that could deny him the nomination?
Probably not. But maybe.
That's because by party bylaws, delegates are free to vote however they want on the rules, platform and challenges to delegates' credentials. The only thing most must do is support the candidate they are pledged to, and only on the first round of votes.
The danger for Trump: Many of his delegates — the numbers are unclear — actually prefer Cruz or perhaps other alternatives. If they're persuaded to do so, perhaps by additional intemperate Trump comments, they can vote for rules changes that would open the door for a replacement.
Kendal Unruh, a Cruz delegate and Trump opponent from Colorado, said Friday she's seeking support for one such proposal. It would let delegates abandon their candidate if there have been "grievous acts of conduct" and cast "a vote of conscience, either personal or religious" for anyone.
Brookover said some Cruz delegates really back Trump, and rated the chances the convention will avert Trump's nomination at "virtually zero." He said the Trump campaign opposes any rules changes that would affect the Cleveland convention.