The New GOP Establishment Playbook: Scorch the Earth
Ask any member of the GOP establishment what their goal is for the upcoming presidential election. He will undoubtedly say it's to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House. But as the old saying goes, watch what they do, not what they say. Judging the GOP by their actions, rather than their words, it is apparent that their actual goal is a "Madame President" next January. How else to explain their actions?
The mantra of the #NeverTrump crowd at National Review is that "Donald Trump is the best chance of salvaging Hillary Clinton's presidential hopes." I contend that it's not Trump, but instead the exuberant anti-Trump crowd steering Hillary toward the White House.
The #NeverTrump movement can play out in several ways, all of which lead to a pantsuit-in-chief in 2017.
First, if Trump ekes out the necessary 1,237 delegates to win the Republican nomination, plenty of Republicans, including some U.S. senators, promise "to quit the party, vote for Hillary Clinton, or cast a protest vote." All of these push Hillary closer to the White House.
Second, if Trump is close but doesn't reach the magic 1,237 number, the promise is a contested or brokered convention. Delegates keep voting until someone does receive 1,237 votes. Ted Cruz thinks this is his pathway to the nomination. He is already securing "stealth delegates" who, regardless of how they are bound to vote on the first ballot, are free to switch their vote on subsequent convention ballots, presumably to him. Don't bet on it. The GOP establishment doesn't want Cruz as the nominee, either.
Third, John Kasich somehow secures the nomination. He is quite confident that this will occur: "I'm going to be the Republican nominee after we win Ohio and finish the rest of the country." Quite the bravado from someone who has won only a single state, one where he is the sitting governor. Also mathematically impossible, based on the number of remaining delegates.
A Kasich nomination would also entail a convention rules change. Currently he is stymied by Rule 40, which requires a candidate winning the majority of delegates in at least eight states. But this is the GOP convention, their show, and they make and can change the rules. Just like the NFL deciding what is and what is not a penalty from one season to the next, the GOP rules committee can drop Rule 40 in favor of something more Kasich-friendly. Suppose they make a rule requiring that a nominee have served in both Congress and as a state governor. Or that the nominee must be the son of a mailman. Bye-bye, Trump and Cruz.
Fourth is a none-of-the-above nominee. Karl Rove, speaking as an elder of the GOP establishment, believes that a "fresh face might be the thing that could give us a chance to turn this election and win in November against Hillary."
Fresh is in the eye of the beholder. A large number of voters think Trump is the fresh face the country needs, someone from the business world new to politics. Rove's idea of fresh would be a twice-failed presidential candidate such as Mitt Romney. Hardly fresh. More like sour milk.
None of these scenarios works out well for the GOP. If Trump wins the nomination, the Republican leadership will campaign against him. Whether it's the #NeverTrump crowd at National Review and The Weekly Standar or a cadre of conservative female pundits creating a petition for Trump to fire his campaign manager, actively or passively campaigning against the party nominee is the equivalent of campaigning for the other party.
How ironic that these so-called conservatives are far more vigorous in their opposition to Trump than they are to Hillary Clinton or were eight years ago to Barack Obama.
The second scenario isn't much better. If Cruz manages to cajole delegates into supporting him, and if Trump enters the convention with more delegates, don't expect Trump supporters to meekly go along and support Cruz. This is the same problem Clinton has with her superdelegates risking losing the support of Sanders voters. Alienating Trump voters will add to Cruz's looming challenge of turning blue states to red. It's not the head-to-head match-ups among likely voters that we see in polls, but instead winning states via the electoral college.
Scenario three is worse. Changing the rules and handing the nomination to Kasich alienates two large blocs of voters – Cruz and Trump, the two candidates who have the most enthusiastic and loyal supporters.
Will GOP voters hold their nose and vote for "the most electable" candidate according to party elders? Or will they stay home on election day? Republican voters have nosebleeds from holding their noses voting for Dole, McCain, and Romney, who were also the "most electable candidates." Will the fourth time be the charm? Doubtful.
Karl Rove's "fresh face" scenario is the worst for the GOP. It's basically giving the middle finger to supporters of Trump, Cruz, and Kasich. Whom does Rove have in mind? Jeb? Paul Ryan? Mitt Romney? Scott Walker? Rove wants a candidate who has been "battle-tested." Well, those four have certainly been battle-tested, and they all lost their battles.
Voters already feel disenfranchised. Allowing the elites, the Republican establishment, the donor class, or whatever you choose to call them to pick the party nominee, particularly in this election cycle, is party suicide. This is the year of the outsider, and voters in flyover country are sick and tired of being told to get in line and blindly support "the party."
Voters feeling once again left out of the "we the people" portion of governance may just stay home on election day, believing that the process is rigged. This not only elects Hillary, but also creates a tsunami of downstream losses. Not voting for president is one thing, but staying home also means no votes for GOP representatives and senators, governors, state legislators, local officials, and ballot initiatives. The Republican gains over the past eight years will be wiped out like a sand castle on the beach after a big wave crashes to shore.
Lastly, Cruz supporters shouldn't rejoice too much over the efforts to block Trump at the convention. Support for Ted Cruz from Lindsey Graham, Mitt Romney, and others is tepid at best. This is not support for Cruz and his candidacy – only for a foil to stop Donald Trump. I didn't hear Rove mention Ted as one of his "fresh faces."
Support for Cruz is solely to deny Trump the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination. Cruz won't hit that number, either. Leaving no candidate with the majority of delegates, in the view of the GOP elites, will leave both "rejected by the voters." The establishment will toss both aside since the reality is that they despise both. All the GOP elites want is no winner on the first ballot so they can change the rules and nominate another battle-tested loser to once again go down in defeat to a weak and easily defeatable Democrat candidate.
Here's one way out. If Trump and Cruz are number one and two in delegates at the convention, why not a Trump-Cruz ticket? Most supporters of either candidate would likely begrudgingly accept such a ticket – and it would be an easy win at the convention with their combined delegates.
The GOP establishment would have to hold their noses this time and vote for the party nominee – unless they still want a Hillary presidency, which they might, as it preserves the status quo of our crony government and keeps them in charge of the party establishment. Otherwise, they risk fracturing the Republican Party into a permanent minority and irrelevant status.