GOP vs. Donald Trump: A Game of Brinkmanship

There is an ever-widening rift between Donald Trump supporters and those who oppose his run.  Conservative and moderate candidates alike have attacked Trump with the intention of forcing him to withdraw from the race but have been unsuccessful because they have failed to make the ultimate sacrifice: withdrawing from the race themselves.

With the Iowa caucus more than four months away, it comes as no surprise that each of the candidates still believes that he or she will represent the Republicans in the general election.  These candidates will stay in the race as long as they can with the hopes of getting the Republican nomination.

The longer the other candidates stay in the race, however, the more traction Trump will get.  With seventeen candidates in the race, it is obvious that the vote is splitting in numerous ways.  There are hawkish candidates, dovish candidates, establishment candidates, and Tea Party candidates, among others.  There is a reasonably good chance that whatever your policy stances are, at least one of the candidates shares very similar views to your own.

It is also very likely that the GOP candidates are splitting the votes in their own states.  With such a diverse field, it comes as no surprise that there are numerous pairs of candidates from the same state.  Keep in mind that Rick Perry and Ted Cruz both represent Texas, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio both represent Florida, and George Pataki and Donald Trump both represent New York.

Candidates and Republican voters alike believe that Trump will usher the end of the GOP.  The truth of these assertions is irrelevant; what is relevant is that the longer certain candidates stay in the race, the more power they give to Trump.  If these other candidates truly believe that Trump will mark the end of the GOP, and if those same candidates are polling unsatisfactorily, they should drop out of the race for the well-being of the party.  

Objectively speaking, candidates such as Jim Gilmore, George Pataki, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Chris Christie, and Rand Paul have a slim chance of winning the nomination.  If they were to drop out, their supporters would spread across the GOP field.  

While the top candidates will have a larger share of the pie with fewer people in the race, one important statistic will pose a problem to Trump's campaign: his high unfavorability rating.  It seems, then, that Trump supporters will continue to support him, and there will not be much crossover from the supporters of other candidates to Trump when their candidates drop out.

With enough candidates dropping out, the media will start to cover the rising poll numbers of the remaining candidates.  Activists, donors, strategists, and public figures will flock to their second-choice candidates.  Trump may fall into second  or third place if the next best candidate gets enough support.

Many establishment candidates are consistently polling quite low.  Surely, their votes would go to a candidate like Jeb Bush or John Kasich.  Many of the more conservative candidates are polling toward the middle of the pack.  If even one were to drop out, the polls would certainly reflect it.

While a candidate's performance in the polls this early in the race is not overarchingly important, a difference in poll numbers will serve to take away one of Trump's favorite talking points.  Trump's repeated success in the polls has served as a positive feedback loop, and he has masterfully utilized his dominance in the polls to amplify his support.

The other GOP candidates, then, are stuck at a crossroads.  Should they stay in the race with the hopes that the "Summer of Trump" will not turn into the fall, winter, or spring of Trump?  Should they drop out and divert their polling numbers and their resources to other candidates?

Jeb Bush, Rick Perry, Rand Paul, and Lindsey Graham each have attacked Donald Trump.  Their attacks have been futile and have alienated Trump's supporters.  If these candidates want to defeat Trump, they should not attack him.  Donald Trump has been untouchable from the very beginning, and these attacks only make the attackers look weak and vulnerable.

If the GOP wants "anyone but Trump," it needs to narrow the field.  If too many candidates stay in the field for too long, they will hurt their own chances and help Trump's chances.  If the party's goal is to defeat Trump, playing the dangerous game of brinkmanship is the exact opposite of what it should be doing.  

Though the plan seems unlikely to come to fruition, it is the GOP's nuclear option.  If Trump is as much of a problem as the establishment and some conservatives claim he is, they should know that a solution exists.  Time is running low for those opposed to Trump's campaign.  "Anyone but Trump" entails the largest sacrifice any candidate can make this presidential election.

Will anyone step up to the challenge?

Michael Bezoian is a third-year political science major at the University of California, Los Angeles.  He is the speaker outreach coordinator for UCLA's College Republicans.