Is the Republican Establishment out to Destroy the GOP?

The Republican establishment seems determined to destroy its own party for a few short-term political gains and some media attention.

This penchant for self-destruction is demonstrated by the Republican leaders’ decision to punish The National Review – one of America’s most influential conservative magazines and a stalwart defender of the Grand Old Party – for daring to criticize Donald Trump. The Guardian reported that The Review had been fired as a moderator of an upcoming Republican presidential debate.

The magazine’s crime was simply to point out the obvious facts that Donald is not a conservative and not necessarily good for the party in a special feature called “Against Trump.” Actually, The Review published the best and most accurate criticism of Trump I’ve seen yet as this excerpt shows us:

“Trump is a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.”

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The Review is effectively pointing out to Republican leaders that their emperor has no clothes. Yet like the imperial subjects in the fairy tale, the wise old men of the GOP do not want to see the truth. They’ll simply go on cheering, even as Donald trashes their brand while igniting a destructive civil war within the party ranks.

Shutting out voices of criticism like The Review will only make them louder and not effectively hide the many problems with Donald Trump. Instead, it simply demonstrates that Republican leaders have lost all touch with reality.

Why The Establishment is Embracing Trump

They seem to think that a little media attention, star power, and celebrity glitter will restore their party to the glory days of the 1980s and get back the lost support. One reason why the establishment has embraced Trump is that the number of Republicans in the country has fallen dramatically in recent years.

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Around 29% of Americans identified themselves as Republicans in 2009, according to the Pew Research Center, but by 2014, that percentage had fallen to 23%. The GOP lost around six percent of its support in five years. To make matters worse, the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as Democrats stayed about the same, 32% in 2014 and 33% in 2009.

One result of this, as I have noted elsewhere, is that the Democrats have a large enough majority to be effectively unbeatable in Presidential contests. If Pew’s numbers can be believed, there are around 102 million Democrats and 73 million Republicans in America. That means any Democratic candidate is effectively two or three laps ahead of any Republican in the general election race.

The GOP leaders seem to hope that Trump’s star power might be able to offset that advantage. This thinking seems ludicrous because the real secret of the Democratic advantage is that the current Republican Party is hopelessly out of touch with modern America. America is an increasingly urban, mixed race, young, and secular nation, while the Republicans are a white, Christian, and rural party made up of older voters.

It is hard to see how Donald Trump and his brand of populism are going to offset these advantages and deficiencies, although Republicans may hope he can somehow energize and mobilize the white working class voters who seem to have turned their back on both parties.

Why Trump will Drive Away Voters

More likely, Trump will end up offending and driving away the younger voters that the GOP desperately needs, and many of its stalwarts as well. Incredibly, Donald’s freak show seems designed to offend virtually everybody in America.

It is almost impossible to list all the groups Trump has offended so far, but a short list includes veterans, the disabled, Republicans, Muslims, journalists, women, feminists, Christians, Mexicans, Hispanics, libertarians, and the mentally ill. Yes, Trump attracts some support, but he drives away as many voters as he attracts.

 

Yet it is not Trump’s offensive nature that could be the most destructive aspect of his run for the GOP. His opportunism could split the party apart and make it impossible to win a Presidential election by driving away a large segment of the base.

The Third Party Run that should scare the GOP

One of the theories behind the establishment embrace of Trump is the fear he might embark upon some sort of third party run. That notion seems absurd because the Donald has neither the resources nor the ability to build an effective third party.

Instead, what Republicans need to fear is a third party designed to counter Trump. If the establishment succeeds in shoehorning Trump into the Republican nomination, we are likely to see an anti-Trump conservative third party appear on the ballot, perhaps under The Tea Party brand. The Tea Party would nominate a staunch conservative such as U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) or perhaps a libertarian like U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) as an alternative to the centrist Trump.

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The purpose of this movement will be not to win the White House, but to screw Trump and punish Republicans for nominating him. Conservatives, especially the Religious right, have the resources to launch such a movement. There is also plenty of precedent for such a movement in American history: George Wallace’s populist run in 1968 and Strom Thurmond’s Dixiecrat movement in 1948 come to mind as examples of such hurt the party crusades.

Given Trump’s poll numbers, as I have noted, he does very badly in red states, and it is quite likely the Tea Party might carry some of those states. Worse, it could take enough votes away from the GOP to help the Democrats carry some red states. The obvious result of this is that whoever the Democrats nominate would win in a landslide.

Even if this does not occur, we are likely to see a very nasty battle in the primaries between Cruz and Trump, with Republicans taking sides. Whoever survives that fight will be in no condition to face a general election battle. Worse, large segments of the Republican rank and file will have been turned against the party establishment for good reason.

Establishment Republicans that embrace Trump need to face one reality to win an election: you need a unified party behind you. Letting the Donald divide and destroy the party will only help the Democrats. One has to wonder if establishment types like Rush Limbaugh, U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), and former Senator Bob Dole, all of whom have embraced Trump, even care about their own party.