Will the GOP Establishment Take a Walk in 2016?

It’s no deep, dark secret. The GOP establishment loathes Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. But if either wins the Republican nomination, will the establishment set aside its enmity to support either man? Will it do what it expected the grassroots to do for the likes of Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney: rally to the party’s nominee, giving the party’s standard-bearer the best possible chance of victory in November?

The question’s not premature. Though neither Trump nor Cruz have the nomination in the bag -- there’s the little matter of caucuses and primaries to battle through -- both have advantages at the start of the 2016 nominating contests that their opponents lack. Marco Rubio appears as the establishment’s best hope, but there’s Jeb, Kasich, and a handful of lesser candidates eating into the establishment vote.

There are early troubling signs that the establishment will bolt if a candidate to their liking fails to secure the nomination. From a November 29 article appearing in The Hill:

When asked who he would vote for if the presidential race comes down to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the former mayor of Los Angeles and a longtime Republican establishment figure, Dick Riordan, says: "I would probably go find a deserted island."

And then, further: 

Riordan is not alone [in his Trump aversion]. In conversations over the past month, GOP establishment donors have confided to The Hill that for the first time in recent memory, they find themselves contemplating not supporting a Republican nominee for president.

Most, however, still believe that Trump will flame out before they have to face that decision.

Though diminishing with the passing days, the blather continues out of Washington and party circles that Trump’s going to tank. This is more on the order of a willful denial of reality. The trend line in Trump’s polling remains consistently strong, gainsaying the thoughtless assertion.  The recent Quinnipiac Poll gives scant hope to anti-Trump forces. This from the poll’s summary:

"It doesn't seem to matter what he says or who he offends, whether the facts are contested or the 'political correctness' is challenged, Donald Trump seems to be wearing Kevlar," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.     

As Malloy alludes, voter intensity for Trump among large swaths of the grassroots looks strong. Barrage after barrage leveled at Trump by the MSM and from other quarters seems to have solidified his support. The real test of intensity, however, happens in the caucuses and primaries. Will turnout for Trump match or exceed his polling?        

Yet more from The Hill.  From a November 30 article by Juan Williams: 

Already stories are popping up about panic from establishment leaders. The Washington Post recently reported that top Republican donors -- a class that represents the heart of the establishment -- are now sitting on the sidelines because of the prospect that Donald Trump, Ben Carson or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz could win the nomination.

The big question: once the GOP nominee is selected -- and if that nominee’s name is Trump or Cruz or even Carson -- will the establishment go all-in, or will it take its marbles and go home (or worse, lend support to the putative Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton)?  

Jeb was supposed to be the establishment’s Chosen One, but his stumbling performances fouled the plan. Establishment movers and shakers -- from conceit or sheer ineptitude -- didn’t try to preempt the field for Jeb, thinking that his bankroll and conservative splintering would do the trick (as it did for Romney in 2012). 

As self-financing, Trump can weather setbacks -- should they come -- throughout next year’s gauntlet of caucuses and primaries. Trump’s competitors lack his outsized resources and, as Malloy commented for Quinnipiac, lack his “Kevlar” personality. 

GOP grandees, having frontloaded the 2016 caucus and primary schedule, have done Trump a big favor (thinking that they’d benefit Jeb or a facsimile). A total of 31 states will choose delegates in a 60-day run. The Iowa Caucus is less than eight weeks away (February 1) and Super Tuesday is fast on its heels (March 1). Conventional wisdom says that voters will turn off politics, more or less, until the holidays conclude, effectively freezing the GOP race in place. In this case, the CW is correct, and this again works to Trump’s advantage.          

Trump, more so than any other candidate in the GOP field, isn’t going to stumble his way to defeat. If Trump loses the nomination, he’s going to have to be beaten, and that’s going to be a bare-knuckles fight. 

As Ben Carson fades, Ted Cruz rises in the polls. Cruz may prove to be Trump’s most serious adversary. Cruz is a movement conservative, a strong communicator, anti-establishment, and has run a shrewd campaign, stockpiling money. 

Rubio’s in the mix, but his challenge (more like dilemma) is finding ways to clear out his establishment rivals (Jeb, Kasich, Fiorina, Christie, et al) and consolidate support… in the next eight weeks. He must hope that Trump and Cruz beat each other senseless in the fight for grassroots support, thereby dividing conservative/nontraditional voter segments. Surely, if Rubio hasn’t consolidated establishment support by Super Tuesday, best case, he finishes second, more likely third, depending on the outcome of the Trump-Cruz clash.    

The most likely scenario for Rubio is to position strongly enough to be nominated at a brokered convention. If no candidate secures a majority of the delegates, a brokered convention will occur in Cleveland. No candidate to date -- and that includes Trump -- has demonstrated majority support. A crowded field and proportional delegate allotments in enough contests tip the scales toward a brokered convention. Brokered conventions have track records of selecting a “centrist” nominee. Rubio certainly fits the bill. 

Failing a brokered convention, the GOP establishment might not get the candidate they want for the first time since Bush lost to Reagan in 1980. Reagan masterfully brought the establishment into coalition with him (choosing Bush to be his vice president). Can Trump or Cruz do the same thing? Will Establishment Republicans be receptive to overtures by either man? Certainly the politics of 2016 are much more contentious and fractured than 1980. But the goal remains the same: beat the Democrats and set the nation straight. What say establishment Republicans?