How Trump Brought the Republican Establishment to Its Knees

As Trump nears the nomination, GOP leaders are running out of ways to stop or control him.


Author:Robert Kuttner/American Prospect

Emphasis Mine

We keep hearing that the Republican Party is on track to suffer an epic split over the presumed nomination of Donald Trump. But what exactly does this mean? What happens once the 2016 election is over?

On one side are traditional business conservatives, devoted to government-bashing, low taxes, and pro-corporate globalization—coupled with dog-whistle appeals to racism. This establishment has delivered all recent GOP nominees, despite the Tea Party takeover of much of the congressional Republican Party—until this year when the party elite was upended.

Since Reagan, the business right has papered over the cracks in a coalition that used social conservatism to win votes of a suffering working class. Now, Trump has demolished that phony alliance. Over the weekend, Trump made it clear that he was not interested in any deal with House Speaker Paul Ryan and suggested that he might challenge his roles as convention chairman—and Ryan said Monday that he’d respect Trump’s wishes.

Trump’s brand of right-wing populism is anti-tax but not anti-government, and is occasionally anti-business. In place of government-bashing, Trump substitutes a crude form of political and economic nationalism. He has turned voter wrath against the financial elites in the GOP who have been calling the shots.

But what recourse do traditional conservatives have if they want to trump Trump? For starters, they could just withhold their support, as the Bush family is doing. Or they could withhold money.

The trouble, however, is that this is the year when the usual suspects have been revealed as politically impotent. The Bushes are history. It doesn’t matter to most conservative voters that the Bushes aren’t backing Trump. If it did matter, Jeb Bush would not have performed so pitifully.

As for the billionaires, some, like Sheldon Adelson, are already sucking up to Trump. There are so many very rich people involved in politics today that Trump is likely to get all the money he needs, even if he’s too cheap to dig into his own (somewhat exaggerated) fortune.

Some Republican leaders will even go so far as to vote for Hillary Clinton. And there is also talk of some kind independent conservative Republican insurgency, as a kind of ad hoc third party to divert votes from Trump.

Technically, an independent could still qualify for ballot listing in all states, according to Richard Winger of Ballot Access News. The deadlines are as early as June in some states and as late as September in others. But all require petitions with thousands of signatures, and a campaign would need to get its act together soon.

A traditional conservative might also try to run with the Libertarian Party, as a way of getting on the ballot. However, former New Mexico Republican governor Gary Johnson—a genuine libertarian—already has that ballot spot and would be difficult if not impossible to dislodge in favor of an orthodox conservative.

The Libertarian Party convention meets in just three weeks, over Memorial Day weekend. Its delegates tend to be purists; they are libertarians because they reject the traditional GOP. They are not about to help the Republican elite out of a jam.

As part of his libertarian creed, Johnson not only supports legalization of marijuana—he’s a pot entrepreneur and former CEO of a startup called Cannabis Sativa. Smoke that, Karl Rove!

This leaves the rather pathetic alternative of a write-in campaign. That would divert a few votes from Trump—maybe a few million votes—and increase the likelihood of a Clinton win.

But this may be just what lot of Republican leaders want. A write-in effort will allow them to help Hillary without having to endorse her. Then, when Trump goes down in flames, they (and not he) can pick up the pieces of their party.

Just as the GOP in Congress relentlessly blocked Obama at every turn, they will try to make Clinton look like a failed president. And just as the Republicans gained large numbers of seats in both houses two years into Obama’s first term in 2010, the Republicans can hope for big pickups in 2018, setting them up to take back the White House in 2020.

Unfortunately for the Democrats, fully 22 Democratic Senate seats are in play in 2018, many of them in usually red states, such as Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, and West Virginia. So even if Democrats take back the Senate in 2016, they could well lose it two years later.

So my bet is that there will be no coming together between the Republican establishment and Trump, and that efforts by Republican leaders to block Trump’s election to the presidency will only intensify.

However, the story does not end there. Even if Hillary Clinton is the next president, the emergence of Trump (and Sanders) in 2016 reflects vast unease and legitimate pocketbook grievances in America. There is no sign of that abating.

The scale of change it will take to restore the economic prospects of the young and the working class makes Bernie Sanders’s proposals look puny. If Clinton fails to make real progresswhether due to Republican blockage or the limits of her own imagination—the anger will only fester and grow.

Trump may well be blocked in 2016, but we haven’t seen the last of Trumpism.

Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and a visiting professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School. His latest book is Debtors’ Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility.



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