Many establishment Republican politicians have been about as comfortable with Donald Trump as their party’s nominee as Shaquille O’Neal would be riding around in a Smart car with sharp rocks sown into its seats. Long ago they figured out that Trump is not the true conservative. He opposes the National Chamber of Commerce’s preference for continuing to allow cheap labor to flow across the Mexican border. He attacks major financial institutions and is trying to run to the left of Hillary Clinton on trade agreements. Perhaps more importantly he is undermining Republican Party’s national persona which they worked so hard to establish.
The Republicans have long been the party that wraps itself in the American flag with its unwavering support of the armed forces. Trump has instead called our military a “disaster”, criticized a war hero for allowing himself to be captured and gotten into a protracted and very public fight with a Gold Star family. Perhaps even more troubling for GOP establishment politicians is Trump’s propensity to spout out whatever bubbles up to the top of his narcissistic, egotistical brain. Whether it is ignorance of world affairs, admiration of dictators, or attacks on whoever enters his crosshairs, they literally have no clue as to what is going to pop out of his mouth next.
Trump is the personification of their worst nightmare come to life. For years Republican leaders have used their base of social conservative voters to sustain their political ambitions as they catered to the fat cats who are their real masters while paying lip service to social issues important to their rank and file.
Lately as they have become keenly aware that the country’s changing demographics will make it harder and harder to win the White House every four years, the Republican hierarchy has ratcheted back on their rhetoric on issues which was driving away Hispanics, blacks and single women and they even begin outreaches to these rapidly growing demographic segments. Perhaps all of this was the final straw, but for whatever reason, the Republican base rebelled against the party elders and chose as their unlikely leader the one candidate who spoke to innermost concerns and prejudices.
With Trump leading the populist rebellion, establishment Republican leaders are left with the horns of a dilemma, should they fully heartedly throw their support behind the Republican nominee as is the norm or should they try to put down the rebellion in their party by opposing Trump and all he stands for. Neither choice is particularly appealing; both could lead to political disaster for the Republican Party.
If all of the Republican leaders were to unite solidly behind Trump, it would certainly increase his chances of winning the White House, but there is also a strong likelihood that he would change the essence of the Republican Party forever. To fully support Trump, Republican leaders would have to abandon some of the conservative economic tenants which have been the bedrock of Republican philosophy for as long as most of them have been in politics. They would also be continuing to push social issues which are alienating the fastest growing segments of the voting population, jeopardizing the Republican Party’s chances to winning the Presidency in future elections. And, if with their help Trump were to win, the social conservative base of the party would be emboldened and the balance of power within the Republican Party shift in their direction. Current Republican leaders might begin to lose their grip on power.
On the other hand, if enough Republican leaders were to publicly oppose Trump, as a growing number have done recently, they could severely weaken his already shaky candidacy to the point where it couldn’t possibly recover before November 6th. That would of course mean that Hillary Clinton would become President. In addition, given the total number and nature of the Senate seats they have to defend this year, it was already going to be a difficult election cycle for Republican in the Senate under the best of circumstances. This Senate election cycle is quite the opposite of the situation which allowed the Republicans to take control of the Senate in 2014. If Hilary Clinton were to win by a landslide, the Republicans could easily lose control of the Senate. Some Republicans have even started to worry that they might even lose control of the gerrymandered House under such circumstances.
If the Democrats can win control of both the White House and the Senate, they would be in perfect position to nominate and confirm a liberal Supreme Court Justice to replace Antonin Scalia creating a solid 5 to 3 liberal majority on the highest court with Justice Roberts no longer casting the swing vote. That is a circumstance that the Republicans can ill afford. Also with two Justices over 80 and another who is 78, the next President could appoint as many as 4 Supreme Court Justices, stacking the court on the conservative or the liberal side for the next generation. In addition, even if the Republicans manage to maintain control of both the Senate and the House, if Hillary Clinton occupies the White House, she will insure bills originating out of the Republican agenda are dead on arrival when they hit her desk.
And don’t underestimate the survival instincts of Republican leaders as they determine how to handle the Trump situation. No matter how much they dislike his demeanor, his behavior, or even his attacks on themselves or their cherished conservative values, the establishment Republicans understand that Donald Trumps now leads a large segment of voters vital to their own future electoral success. They simply can’t afford to publicly disavow Trump and alienate his many supporters.
So while a few Republican politicians have chosen publicly shun Trump and a few others have climbed fully aboard his bandwagon, most are fully aware of the dangers of both approaches and have chosen to try to walk the tight rope between the two extremes. They utter nonsense like “I will vote for Donald Trump, but I can’t yet endorse him”. Or they repeatedly disavow Trump’s specific actions, but can’t publicly bring themselves to disavow the man himself. Still others say that they are concentrating only on supporting down-ballot Republican candidates.
I get the impression that Republican leaders like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are content to lose the White House, even in a landslide, this November, especially if they can maintain control of the Senate and the House. This would provide an object lesson to their party’s socially conservative base that rebelling against their leadership is an invitation to disaster and help to make populist candidates an aberration rather than the new norm. I get the feeling that they would consider this election season a success if they can just make it through the November election without the Republican Party being irrevocably split into two warring sides.