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Ben Carson talks of 'leaving' GOP. Big threat to party?

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Matt York/AP

(Read caption) Republican Presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks in Phoenix Dec. 4. Carson threatens to leave the Republican Party and run as an independent.

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Ben Carson on Friday threatened to bolt the Republican Party amid reports that GOP leaders discussed strategy for a brokered convention at a D.C. dinner earlier this week.

Mr. Carson appeared concerned that the meeting was the beginning of an establishment effort to block outsider candidates from the nomination if primaries do not produce a clear winner.

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“If this was the beginning of a plan to subvert the will of the voters and replace it with the will of the political elite, I assure you Donald Trump will not be the only one leaving the party,” said Carson in a statement, referring to Mr. Trump’s threat to run as an independent if he’s treated “unfairly.”

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According to The Washington Post, a group of about 20 GOP insiders – including RNC chief Reince Priebus and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell – met Monday for dinner at a restaurant near the US Capitol. The prospect of a deadlocked convention where Trump controlled a significant number of delegates “dominated” the conversation, according to the Post.

But other attendees characterized the discussion as less a Stop Trump meeting than prudent planning for a deadlock that might actually occur. With Trump maintaining a steady 20 to 30 percent in national polls and at least two or three other contenders positioned for a long run, the prospect of no one emerging from the primary process with a majority of delegates remains real, in this view.

“Real” is not the same as “likely,” however. The harsh winnowing process of losing primary votes has yet to begin. By March the most probable scenario is that only two candidates, or two contenders with a third lagging behind, will remain. A clear winner should emerge from such a scrum.

“Brokered convention story has swallowed my day,” tweeted Geoffrey Skelley of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics on Friday. “Scenario gets attention every cycle, then doesn’t happen. Probably won’t in ’16 either.”

As for Carson’s reaction, GOP officials maintained that the retired neurosurgeon had simply misread the situation.

RNC spokesman Sean Spicer, appearing on CNN, said the flap was “silly” and that “we’ll have a great convention. It’ll all work out.”

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A Carson third-party bid would be a major obstacle to Republican victory in November 2016.

Carson’s poll numbers are falling and his campaign is going through a period of disarray. His close friend and business associate Armstrong Williams has publicly complained that campaign officials have done a poor job helping Carson prepare for speeches and other public events.

But Carson, like Trump, has a committed core of supporters. The ex-surgeon is popular with evangelicals, home schoolers, and self-described very conservative voters. And in an America where presidential voting is almost evenly split between the two parties, even a few percentage points shaved off Republican support in key states could tip the balance of national power.