Trump’s War for the Soul of the Republican Party

Even conservatives who deeply distrust Donald Trump and do not believe that he is qualified to be president are beginning to acknowledge that his unprecedented popularity has sent a clear message. Trump’s electoral success has demonstrated that the leadership of the Republican Party and their puppet candidates have been discredited for cynically ignoring the will of party voters.

The party has not had a truly conservative national leader since Ronald Reagan left the White House.

Trump supporters believe that for almost 30 years the politically protected members of the Republican establishment have cut their convenient deals with their Democrat counterparts in Washington for the benefit of their well-connected friends and the moneyed special interest groups which lavishly support both parties. The elite conservatives have always sneered at the “poorly educated” working class who were known as Reagan Democrats then, and who comprise the loyal army for Trump’s political revolution today.

These elitists feel deeply threatened by the refusal of millions of these voters to accept their handpicked candidates who have been selected for their ability to continue to perpetuate the status quo, while claiming to represent conservative values.

One-by-one, Trump has shot down each of their presidential candidates who belittled him for speaking about issues that millions of grass roots Republicans care about, but which have received only lip service from GOP leaders and their national candidates for decades.

The voters who have turned to Trump also distrust the politically correct language and hypocritical standards which the candidates of the political elite have long used to conceal their intentions from the voters. These voters respect Trump more for having the courage to say what he means to them in plain language that they can understand, and for expressing their deepest fears and emotions that regular politicians are afraid to address honestly.

Members of the party establishment still find it hard to believe that so many rank and file Republican and conservative voters will no longer accept their poll-tested statements from insincere candidates, now that they have heard Trump speak what they believe is the truth.

Now that Marco Rubio, the last of the GOP establishment-blessed candidates, has gone down to defeat at Trump’s hands, the establishment has turned, in utter desperation, to another thorn in their side, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, even though he has alienated party leaders by publicly exposing the hypocrisy of GOP congressmen and senators in Washington for abandoning the causes for which the voters had elected them.

WHY CRUZ HAS FALLEN BEHIND

Cruz’s base was supposed to be made up of constitutional conservatives and evangelical Christians. His strategy was to sweep the Republican primaries in the southern and border states where evangelical voters are the majority, as well as caucus states where his ground operation would turn out committed conservatives on his behalf.

While Cruz’s organization has enabled him to win in Iowa and other conservative caucus states, evangelical voters who feel that their religious beliefs are under siege by the government have turned to Trump. They recognize that he is not religious, but they are voting for him because they believe he is the only candidate strong enough to keep his promises to defend their principles.

As a result, Cruz has lost most of the southern and border states he expected to win during the first two months of the primary season. He is now well behind Trump in the delegate count.

ROMNEY’S MISSION

In recent weeks, Trump has continued to extend his delegate lead, despite tens of millions of dollars spent by the GOP establishment to trash his reputation. Desperate to prevent Trump from winning enough delegates to wrap up the nomination before the GOP national convention in Cleveland, 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney urged Republican voters to cast their primary ballot, not for their favorite candidate, but for the one with the best chance to beat Trump in their state. Early indications are that the most Republican voters are ignoring Romney’s advice.

The energy being expending by Romney and other failed candidates to bring down Trump was never displayed in their campaigns against Democrats. Trump’s supporters believe this is because his victory would shut down the entire campaign business. Unbeholden to lobbyists and bosses, the GOP elites have no way to control what Trump would do as president. He would be free to actually do the will of the people, which is exactly what Romney and Trump’s other Republican enemies fear.

TRUMP STILL ON TRACK TO WIN IT ALL

Trump’s most important victory to date was in the winner-take-all race in Florida on March 5, giving him 99 pledged delegates and driving Rubio out of the race. That left Trump facing only Cruz and Ohio governor John Kasich. He is still on track to win the balance of the 1,237 delegates he needs to wrap up the nomination before the convention. Neither Kasich nor Cruz has any chance of winning that number of delegates before the convention.

Kasich won his home state of Ohio, but Trump beat him almost everywhere else. Though the media is now promoting him as a viable candidate, Kasich’s positions are much too liberal to win Republican primaries in most areas of the country.

Cruz’s main hope is to prevent Trump from reaching 1,237 delegates, and to arrive at the convention with enough pledged delegates to make him a credible alternative. His problem is that the party leaders would prefer to nominate almost anyone else as an alternative to Trump. Cruz will argue that because of his anti-establishment reputation, he would have the best chance for maintaining the allegiance of Trump delegates if their candidate is denied the nomination.

Trump has made it clear that he will not accept defeat gracefully if the party establishment tries to deny him the nomination, especially if he arrives at the convention with more than 1,000 delegates, which now seems very likely.

THE STOP-TRUMP MOVEMENT STARTED TOO LATE

Nevertheless, Trump’s Republican opponents have been meeting behind closed doors to examine their options, which are not very good at this point.

The stop-Trump movement has taken far too long to get rolling. At the start of the race, other candidates badly underestimated Trump’s appeal and staying power with his voters. After he successfully took on governors Rick Perry and Jeb Bush early in the race, none of the others wanted to risk challenging him on their own. They preferred instead to take on each other for the right to become Trump’s main opponent, while fervently hoping that Trump would self-destruct.

Foremost among them was Cruz, who tried to position himself to inherit Trump’s supporters by being the only candidate who refused to criticize Trump’s anti-establishment positions before Trump beat him in the New Hampshire primary.

Since that time, Cruz has tried to maintain his anti-establishment credentials while at the same time promoting himself as the establishment’s last hope to deny Trump the nomination.

Even if his Republican enemies continue their hugely expensive nationwide negative ad campaign to trash Trump’s image, it is not at all certain they will be able to prevent him from winning the delegates he needs to wrap up the nomination. Even if they can stop him short of 1,237, they know that trying to deny him the nomination at the convention risks splitting the party, forfeiting the White House to Hillary Clinton and damaging the Republican brand for many years to come.

THE DESPERATE 3RD PARTY ALTERNATIVE

Leading conservatives, such as William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, are so desperate to field a conservative Trump alternative that they are considering putting up people such as Rick Perry and former Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn either as independent candidates or on a minor party ticket, such as the Libertarians, which is already on the ballot in most states.

Their goal is to give voters like themselves who are convinced they cannot support Trump under any conditions an alternative to Hillary Clinton, as well as an excuse to go and vote for other Republican candidates running for office in their states and districts in November. It is unlikely that either Perry or Coburn would be willing to risk dividing the party by accepting a nomination for an office which they will have no chance of winning. Both are opposed to Trump, but Perry was badly embarrassed by his two failed presidential runs, and Coburn, who stepped down from his Senate seat early last year after being diagnosed with cancer, said he had little desire to run himself.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg figured out a few weeks ago that an independent run was not feasible. But Kristol said that it is not too late to jump in. ““I think the ballot access question is manageable,” he said. “The big question is, who’s the candidate?”

The establishment’s independent or third party strategy is particularly ironic, given party leader demands last summer that Trump sign a pledge not to run as a third party candidate if he were defeated for the GOP nomination. At the time, party leaders were sure that grass roots conservative voters would see Trump as they did, as a conceited amateur, too brash, liberal and unqualified to serve as the party’s standard bearer. Many still can’t accept how wrong they were.

TRUMP’S OPPONENTS STILL CAN’T AGREE TO COOPERATE

Mitt Romney abandoned his previously even handed anti-Trump approach last week. He said he would vote for Cruz in this week’s Utah primary, and warned that anyone voting for Kasich was making it “extremely likely that Trump-ism would prevail.”

About two dozen anti-Trump conservatives met last week in Washington to debate publicly endorsing Cruz, in an effort to prove to voters that the stop-Trump movement was not just a party establishment plot. But in the end they couldn’t agree on either Cruz or Kasich, and urged Republican voters to support whichever one had the best chance to defeat Trump in their state.

Conservative activist Erich Erickson, who convened the meeting, was unhappy with the outcome, and seemed pessimistic that Trump’s opponents would be willing “to come to terms and lay off each other” enough to defeat their common enemy.

One of the conservative groups which have been backing the stop-Trump effort is the Club for Growth, which has already spent millions of dollars on attack ads which haven’t worked. It announced last week that it is undertaking a new study to find a message that will convince Trump’s supporters to abandon him, something that nobody has been able to do so far.

Club for Growth is asking its donors for another $2 million for ads to defeat Trump in the next winner-take-all primary in Wisconsin on April 5. According to a memo sent out by the group’s president, David McIntosh, “the only viable option to defeat Donald Trump is Ted Cruz,” even though the memo concedes that it is “very unlikely” that Cruz could overtake Trump.

Kasich, on the other hand, is the sentimental favorite of the party’s Washington establishment, both because of the many years he spent there as a congressman from Ohio and because they feel his relatively moderate views would be more acceptable to independent and moderate Democrat voters than Cruz’s hard line conservative positions.

TRUMP COULD BEAT CLINTON BY BREAKING “THE BLUE WALL”

Trump and his supporters have argued that the polls showing Clinton leading him in a head-to-head match-up are wrong, in part because Trump has not yet gone to work in taking apart Clinton’s record and qualifications to be president. They also claim that Trump is the only Republican candidate who can fundamentally change the electoral college math which has given the Democrats a huge initial advantage in the recent presidential elections.

In order to win the presidency, a candidate must get 270 electoral votes, the vast majority of which are awarded state-by-state on a winner-take-all basis. In the past six presidential elections, the Democrats have consistently won 18 states plus the District of Columbia, giving them a base of 242 electoral votes, and requiring the Republicans to win in virtually all of the swing states to gain the White House. Political columnist Ronald Brownstein calls those state the “blue wall” because they have been out of reach to Republican candidates since the 1992 election.

DEMOCRAT ENTHUSIASM GAP

Trump points to the polls which show that he is responsible for record turnouts at Republican primaries and caucuses, while turnout for the Democrats is down substantially since 2008. Democrats concede that they are at a political disadvantage this year due to an intensity gap. Republicans are much more motivated to get involved in the candidate selection process by going to the polls and voting. This could be a crucial factor in the November general election up and down the ballot.

Trump claims that his strong cross-party appeal to working class independent voters and “Reagan Democrats” can put many of those industrial states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota back into play. In fact, Trump claims that he even has a chance to score a huge upset victory in November over Hillary Clinton in New York and New Jersey.

On the other hand, some Democrats welcome the prospect of a Trump candidacy, which they confidently predict will lead to an easy Clinton victory, driven by a huge turnout of black, Hispanic and minority voters who are angered and frightened by Trump’s rhetoric. They suggest that Trump’s high negatives with Hispanic voters could cost Republicans Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado. The Republican anti-Trump movement is driven in part by these same conclusions.

TRUMP’S WORKING CLASS APPEAL

However, some Democrat strategists are not so sure that Trump will be so easy for Clinton to beat. A former Obama campaign official worries about Trump’s proven ability to generate a huge surge of white male working class voters with whom Trump’s economic message resonates very strongly.

Democrat analysts worry that in the general election, Trump will be able to tap into some of the youthful anti-establishment enthusiasm which has empowered Bernie Sanders’ insurgent campaign. Trump shares many of Sanders’ outspoken criticisms of free trade deals like NAFTA which have cost millions of Americans their good-paying industrial jobs, sending them abroad. Those agreements, including the latest Pacific Partnership trade deal, were supported by Mrs. Clinton until very recently, and her husband also sponsored them when he was president.

LABOR UNION MEMBERS IN PLAY

In fact, industrial labor union officials have been warning Democrat Party officials that they may have difficulty keeping their memberships in line behind Clinton if she is running against Trump in November. Many rank-and-file union members who are fearful of losing their jobs to China and Mexico are supporting Trump.

Veteran Republican strategist Steve Schmidt says that Trump’s success in the general election is very hard to predict because he is such an unpredictable candidate. He has already rewritten the normal rules for conducting a Republican primary campaign and he is fully capable of being equally disruptive in a general election campaign against Mrs. Clinton.

The tough competition against Bernie Sanders has made Mrs. Clinton a much more effective candidate since the race for the Democrat nomination began. Trump has repeatedly proven his skill as a master communicator in delivering his message to his audience. Each one has a very different style and different weaknesses. A head-to-head contest between them will be fascinating to watch.

THE DELEGATE NUMBERS GAME

Meanwhile, both Cruz and Kasich are making an extra effort in Wisconsin in the hope of blunting Trump’s momentum before half-a-dozen GOP primaries in Northeastern states, starting with New York on April 19, where Trump is heavily favored.

It has become a numbers game. Whether Trump can reach win the 1,237 delegates he needs for the nomination may not be clear until the last round of GOP primaries are held on June 7 in California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota. California is the biggest prize with 172 delegates to be allocated on a winner take all basis in each of the state’s congressional districts. Trump expects to do well in California and New Jersey, while the Cruz camp is optimistic about the winner take all contests in Montana and South Dakota.

Meanwhile, Trump keeps reaching out to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan. Each of them has their own good reasons for avoiding a political train wreck at the Republican convention that could easily cost the party its control of the Senate and badly weaken its majority in the House in November.

TAKING TRUMP SERIOUSLY

Some committed Republicans who have listened to Trump’s arguments and carefully weighed the pros and cons of his candidacy admit to feeling a little foolish revealing to their snobbish intellectual conservative friends that they are seriously considering voting for Trump, not only as the alternative to the greater evil of Hillary Clinton in the November, but even in an upcoming Republican primary, instead of the new party establishments darlings, Cruz and Kasich.

It has taken these Republicans some time to realize that the primary process has actually worked and produced a clear if unexpected winner in Donald Trump. Over the past six months, he has earned his frontrunner status, and proven that it is more than just a brief flash in pan.

It is hard to deny Trump’s appeal to millions of disillusioned Americans who voted for Obama 8 years ago on the basis of his false promise to deliver hope and change “we can believe in.” He also violated his commitment to unify the country and end the bitter partisan divisions which have paralyzed Washington.

Many Obama voters have been telling pollsters that after 8 years of his leadership, the country is still headed in the wrong direction. Democrats who had hoped their party would offer them a more palatable alternative are dismayed that it is offering them the same Hillary Clinton whom Obama defeated 8 ago. Many see her as even more deeply flawed and dishonest today than she was then. To make matters worse, Clinton has promised to continue Obama’s deeply flawed policies. Her election would be, in effect, an Obama third term, forfeiting any hope for improvement over the next four years.

RE-EXAMINING THE REPUBLICAN OPTIONS

This brings us back to the Republican options. One of them is not John Kasich. He has been allowed to go along for the ride when Rubio wasn’t, because, as a favorite son, he was able to defeat Trump in Ohio, delaying his quest to wrap up the nomination, at least for a while. But Kasich is not going to win the Republican nomination, that’s for sure.

Mitt Romney has declared Donald Trump to be unacceptable. He certainly has his flaws, except for the fact that seven and a half million grass roots Republican primary voters, and counting, are convinced that he is the best man to be president. That is two million more than his nearest competitor, Ted Cruz, who was, until very recently, even more hated by most of his Republican colleagues in Washington than Trump.

The Republican establishment has apparently concluded that as much as they dislike Cruz, they can ultimately cut a deal with him in return for their help in stealing the nomination from Trump, after Cruz failed to beat him in the primaries.

WHY THE ESTABLISHMENT FEARS TRUMP MORE THAN CRUZ

They are afraid that if Trump is president, they will soon find themselves outside the halls of power of Washington instead of behind the scenes, pulling the strings. They hold no power over Trump, because he knows how to make deals and wield the power of the presidency as effectively as anyone since Ronald Reagan, or possibly Lyndon Johnson.

As usual, the establishment is determined to destroy any political leader they cannot control, so, with the eager help of the media, they have thrown the kitchen sink at Trump, so far without much effect. They have called him sexist, racist and bigoted. They accuse him of Islamophobia and compare him to Hitler and Musolini.

A DOUBLE STANDARD OF POLITICAL CORRECTNESS

They claim that Trump’s rhetoric is dangerous, yet when New York Times columnist Ross Douthat clearly implied that the best way to deal with Trump was to have him assassinated, there was no outcry from the bastions of political correctness demanding his firing for suggesting the unthinkable. Imagine what the reaction on the left would be if someone dared to make the same kind of “joke” about Obama or Mrs. Clinton.

Trump’s opponents condemn him for being unafraid to call this country’s enemies by their name, radical Islamic terrorists. They call him a demagogue for being willing to express the frustrations that tens of millions of Americans keenly feel, for wanting “America to be great again.” The deride him for pointing out the problems which are preventing America from being great again, from a broken immigration system to a weak and submissive foreign policy, to international trade deals which continue to cost American workers their jobs.

SAVING THE MIDDLE CLASS

Trump has won the support of the working class, including both white people and minorities who used to be the bedrock of the middle class in this country. They believe that he won’t sell them out to the big political contributors and the special interests.

Working class Americans have been the main victims of 20 years of economic stagnation due to the dysfunctional government, exploding regulation, a massive increase in public debt, self-defeating trade policies and an inefficient and unfair federal tax code.

TRUMP IS THE REVENGE OF THE WORKING CLASS

Their interests have been abandoned by the political leaders they voted for. The rise of Donald Trump is their sweet revenge. He speaks for them when nobody else will.

The media and the intellectual elites on both the left and the right have thinly disguised contempt for Trump supporters, including those whom the pollsters call derisively the “poorly educated.”

His potent message, mixing populism and nationalism, is reaching across the partisan divide. It has ignited the pent up anger and frustration of grass roots Americans, whose fundamental needs and desires have been ignored by their elected leaders for too long.

Trump is their duly appointed messenger. In the current attempts by the left and right establishments, with the aid of the media, to kill that messenger, their cynical agenda lies exposed.