The GOP establishment’s push for a brokered convention — crystallized yesterday in Mitt Romney’s thinly veiled calls for a contested floor vote to stop Donald Trump — could plunge the fractured party into a “civil war,” GOP observers warn, and alienate droves of voters who have flocked to the party under the Trump banner.

“Effectively, it proves to anyone wanting change in Washington that the establishment is willing to go to any lengths to hold onto their power,” said New Hampshire GOP strategist Mike Dennehy. “The GOP could potentially lose everything by following the brokered convention route.”

Romney, the party’s failed 2012 nominee, didn’t directly call for a brokered convention, but in his impassioned speech in Utah yesterday, he laid out a path for Republicans to deny Trump the minimum delegate count he needs to secure the nomination on the first ballot at the convention in Cleveland.

“Given the current delegate selection process, this means that I would vote for Marco Rubio in Florida, for John Kasich in Ohio and for Ted Cruz or whichever one of the other two contenders has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump in a given state,” Romney told the crowd in the televised address.

The spoiler strategy could in essence “take away the vote from the voters,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “If that’s the GOP’s goal, you’re asking for a civil war to break out.”

He added, “Frankly, if (Trump) winds up winning Florida and Ohio, they need to find a way to rally around him because if they don’t, you’re just going to allow Hillary Clinton to walk in the front door of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”

N.H. state Rep. Steve Stepanek, a Trump supporter, said, “Trump is reaching out to these people, he’s bringing these people in … And now they’re upset they can’t control these people. They would rather take the party down than lose control.”

The idea of Romney emerging as a candidate in a brokered convention is unlikely but can’t be ruled out, a former aide said.

“I don’t see that happening — but I haven’t seen a lot of what’s been happening in this campaign,” said Romney’s 2012 spokesman Ryan Williams.

“I do think that’s not the governor’s intention at all. I think Gov. Romney is a realist and he wants to talk about the most plausible way to stop Trump and at this point, it may be a contested convention.”

But the gambit will just help Trump, said former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown — once a Romney loyalist, now with Trump.

“I think what he has done, the governor, is rally more people to come out for Donald Trump and mobilize them more and have them understand what’s at stake here,” Brown said on Boston Herald Radio yesterday.

At a rally in Portland, Maine, Trump lashed out at Romney, dubbing him a “choke artist” for his 2012 loss, when “he was begging for my endorsement.”

“I could have said, ‘Mitt, drop to your knees,’ he would have dropped to his knees,” Trump said to a loud round of applause from the crowd.

“He was begging. He was begging me.”

Chris Villani and Owen Boss contributed to this report.


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