Ross Douthat defends stopping a Trump nomination no matter the cost:

Trump would be no exception: Denying him the nomination would indeed be an ugly exercise, one that would weaken or crush the party’s general election chances, and leave the G.O.P. with a long hard climb back up to unity and health.

But if that exercise is painful, it’s also the correct path to choose. A man so transparently unfit for office should not be placed before the American people as a candidate for president under any kind of imprimatur save his own. And there is no point in even having a party apparatus, no point in all those chairmen and state conventions and delegate rosters, if they cannot be mobilized to prevent 35 percent of the Republican primary electorate from imposing a Trump nomination on the party.

It is strange to think that supporters of the leading candidate for the nomination are “imposing” their choice on the party. They are choosing according to the rules that the party created, and their candidate is coming out ahead in most of the contests. They are no more “imposing” their candidate’s nomination on the party than Romney or McCain voters were. This portrays a Trump nomination as if he were being foisted on an unwilling party in the name of foisting another nominee on the party with even less popular support.

The percentage of the primary electorate that will be supporting the front-runner is certain to be larger than 35% three months from now when the primaries have concluded. It may be lower than McCain’s 47% or Carter’s 40%, or it could be higher, but it shouldn’t matter whether it’s 35%, 45%, or some other figure. Any other candidate in Trump’s current position would be considered the presumptive nominee in recognition of the clear preference of the plurality of voters across dozens of states. He is likely going to add four or five more states to that list on Tuesday, and looking ahead on the schedule there aren’t many places where he seems likely to lose. Were one of Trump’s rivals in his position, we would be hearing from many of the same people that it is was time for the other candidates to step aside and unify behind the leader. The double standard that is being applied here is not lost on Trump’s millions of supporters.

If Trump is transparently unfit for the office of president, it’s also clear that he is the candidate preferred by more Republican voters than any other and seems almost certain to remain so. Evidently these voters don’t view him that way, and the current system is supposed to respect their choice even when they make a bad one. Unless Trump is defeated fairly at the polls, it would make a mockery of the entire process (and the millions of voters that have participated in it) to block his nomination. Judging from polling in three of the states voting on Tuesday, blocking Trump is not what a large majority of Republican voters wants:

The die-hard anti-Trump faction has a significant minority of Republican voters behind it, but it’s important to recognize how broadly unpopular within the GOP their goal is. His opponents are free to work against him within the rules, but if Trump’s opponents don’t beat him often enough to deprive him of the majority of delegates this spring they would be on extremely thin ice to deny him the nomination. It wouldn’t just be ugly. It would reek of illegitimacy. No one can seriously believe that a candidate selected at a party convention would be more representative or more legitimate than the leading vote-winner from the primaries. Whoever gets suckered into accepting the nomination under those conditions would also be embarking on a fool’s errand and could expect to suffer one of the biggest defeats in modern U.S. history.

The bizarre thing about all this is that seeking to thwart Trump’s nomination actually lets him and his supporters off the hook. If he earns the nomination from the voters but has it taken away, he would be justified in launching an independent bid or telling his supporters to stay home. Instead of having to own the Republican defeat that was likely to happen anyway, he and his voters would be able to tell themselves that they were robbed of their chance, and perhaps they would pretend that Trump could have won if he had been the nominee. This would take a constituency that already feels understandably betrayed by party leaders and would give them another genuine betrayal to add to their list of grievances. How could that possibly be good for the future health and unity of the party? It would take the party’s current problems and multiply them several times over. Anti-Trump Republicans are working desperately to make sure that they take the blame for losing in the fall, and in so doing they are trying to relieve Trump of responsibility for the consequences of his own candidacy.