No doubt about it, this has been a tough week for Donald Trump. He was tied to the mast of the Ship of State and flogged from all sides; the leaders of the Republican establishment, self-important political pundits and the mendacious media all went after Trump with viperous abandon. Of course Hillary took glee in attacking him, but even the President took valuable time away from managing the country and leading the fight against terrorism to savage Trump.
So what is it that triggered this blitzkrieg attack on Trump? True, Trump did make a series of outlandish, bombastic, conspiracy mongering, divisive and even outright racist comments, but that was just Trump being Trump. He is acting the same way and saying the same things he has for the past year. But from the perspective of the Republican establishment, the problem is that Trump is still playing small-ball, when he needs to be engaged in a home run hitting contest.
Republicans – We Have a Problem
When it comes to presidential elections the Republicans have a problem because it is a minority party. If 100 percent of Republicans voted for their candidate in the general election, that candidate would still lose. (The last non-incumbent Republican nominee to win a majority of voters was Ronald Reagan in 1980, with 50.75 percent of the vote.) Republicans who yearn to be president must first appeal to one core group of voters to win the nomination, but when it comes to actually winning the presidency, the Republican nominee must shift their positions in an effort to appeal to a broader base of voters. Unfortunately for the Republicans, this strategy has, more often than not, failed. Just ask Mitt Romney.
Each time a Republican candidate for president uses this bait-and-switch strategy and loses, the base of the Party becomes more frustrated and angry. This year the hard-core Republican voters rejected those candidates they feared would say one thing in the primary and then “pivot” away from that in the general election. Instead, they rallied behind an unconventional candidate, because they believed he would be consistent in the now and after.
With the nomination apparently in hand, Trump has rejected the bleating of the Republican elite to change his message. Trump seems to understand that to do so would totally alienate the 13 million Republicans who supported him in the primaries, and that would guarantee his loss. Trump’s thinking seems to be that if he can solidify the base of the Republican Party and then cobble together enough Independent and Democratic voters who are frustrated with the direction of the country and those who viscerally distrust or hate Hillary, then he will have a path to victory. Trump’s message to the Republican establishment so far is: You guys have been consistent losers doing it your way, while I have been successful doing it my way; so just “be quiet” and I will show you how to win.
As a result, the Republican Party is in chaos. The Republican Party is like a colony of hungry ants that has stumbled upon a piece of sweet candy. But as they swarm around the prize, they discover that it has been sprayed with poison that will probably kill them. The ants have to decide: Do they eat it anyway because they are hungry or do they move on and hope to find something else to eat that at least won’t kill them? All this ranker and dysfunction leaves the Republican Party with three options for this election.
Option One: Take one for the team
The Republican establishment can buckle-up, suck-it-in and go with the candidate who won the primaries, even though the Party may be totally vanquished in the election and end up dealing with President Hillary. (A result many Republicans consider a fate worse than death.)
The Republicans could turn this situation into a positive by sticking together, taking their lumps in November and then starting all over with a fresh start. This strategy would be humbling and embarrassing, (not something likely to be accepted by the egos of the establishment) but it would give the Party the freedom to purge the ideas and approaches that do not work.
It would not be the first time such a strategy has been employed. In 1964 the Republican nomination was hijacked by the rise of economic and social conservatives who forced Barry Goldwater on the Party. Goldwater went on to suffer one of the worst drubbings in the history of presidential elections and the Republican Party was decimated. Many predicted the Republican Party would never rise again. And yet, just four years later Richard Nixon was elected.
Option Two: Ditch Trump at the convention
There is a growing movement (really more a desperate dream) to change the convention rules in a way that would block Trump’s nomination. The motivation for this radical action is fear that a Trump nomination would be so disastrous to the Party and the entire slate of down-ballot Republican candidates, that it would be worth enduring the chaos that would ensue at the convention.
It would be counterproductive to nominate one of the candidates who has already been rejected by the Republican base, so many are suggesting that House Speaker Paul Ryan could be a Party savior. Ryan has verified Conservative credentials, but is also able to work both sides of aisle. Sure, Trump supporters would be furious, but what options would they have? Most of them hate Hillary even more than they like Trump. They would have the choice of staying home and guaranteeing a Clinton victory or vote for a proven Conservative.
At the very least a Ryan candidacy would bring some sanity to the campaign, while also making it easier for Republican Senate, Congressional and state governors in the election. And who knows? With Clinton’s approval ratings almost as low as Trump’s, Ryan might be able to attract enough voters from outside the Republican Party to actually win.
Option Three: Trump Could Withdraw Before the Convention
Does Trump really want to be president? Does a 70 year old billionaire really want to give up the freedom and fun of the life he has lived and take on the responsibilities, rigors, frustration, criticisms and confinements of being president? It would be one thing if Trump had spent his entire adult life – like Hillary and other politicians – seeking the highest office in the land, but he hasn’t. Trump has dedicated his life to making money and himself famous, not to battle in the political trenches to make policy.
And there is another thing: Trump, who has sought adulation almost as much as money, has not developed the thick skin of a politician that can take criticism and brush it off. Trump’s reaction to criticism is to lash out, not seek resolution.
When Trump announced his candidacy he did not think he would win nor did he really want the nomination. For him it was more for ego and the marketing of his brand. But now he is trapped. His ego does not want him humiliated and ridiculed for suffering the worst defeat in presidential history. The best option for Trump and his ego, is to announce that he has recognized that he does not have the political experience or temperament to be president, and for the good of the Republican Party and the country, he will not accept the nomination. If Trump were to take this approach, he would walk away a winner, with more publicity than even his ego dreamed of; he would be in a position to make more money and have more freedom and fun than ever.
One thing is certain: No matter which option the Republicans take, they are in for a long cold summer.