McCarville: GOP ‘Leaders’ Playing Dangerous Game


By Mike McCarville

If it is true, as it is suggested, that some of those at the top of the Republican Party power structure will try to wrest the party’s presidential nomination from the winner of the primary gauntlet, the result will be a blood-letting so severe the wound will take generations to heal, if it ever does. It is a dangerous game being played.

The suggestion is now flowing from multiple sources; one of the most complete accounts of the speculation is found here:

The outrage at such an attempt to dump Donald Trump will echo across the country like a rifle shot. All those Republicans who voted for Trump, and more who believe the ring belongs to those who grab it, will erupt.

To suggest that Trump be robbed of the nomination and be replaced by the party’s failed nominee of years ago, Mitt Romney, is not only bad politics, it is an insult to voters. It also will make a mockery of the primary system, designed to produce the strongest nominees of both parties. And it likely will produce a Trump run as an Independent, taking his GOP voters with him.

Is this scenario, the party leadership trying to dump Trump, a real possibility? Many veterans of GOP wars see it developing.

gopvsgopHere’s Pat Buchanan, writing in WNDThe (Washington) Post’s Michael Gerson says “establishment Republicans” must “make clear that [Trump] has moved beyond the boundaries of serious and civil discourse.” He loathes the Trumpites as much as (George) Will. Trump’s followers are “xenophobic,” Gerson tells CNN. They have a “resentment of outsiders, of Mexico, of China, and immigrants. That’s more like a European right-wing party, a UKIP or a National Front in France. Republicans can’t incorporate that.” But if the GOP has no room for Trump’s followers, it has no future. For there simply aren’t that many chamber-of-commerce and country-club Republicans.

But if the GOP has no room for Trump’s followers, it has no future.

Buchanan is spot on. The exclusionary action of dumping Trump will disenfranchise thousands and disillusion thousands more.

Writing in Politico, veteran observer/commentator Jeff Greenfield made these observations:

It wasn’t so long ago that the political universe was licking its collective chops over the prospect of a contested Republican convention, a delegate fight that went all the way to July without a nominee. Now, with Donald Trump notching his most decisive primary win yet—and looking to pick off several more on Super Tuesday—we’re hearing that the contest will be over by the Ides of March. That means Trump could walk away with a nomination that almost no traditional Republicans ever wanted to see happen.

trumpokcWhat could stop him? So far, his opponents have barely made a dent in The Donald. There’s a good chance the race will be over unless the Republican Party establishment and its conservative core do something that neither party has ever done: gather the forces, pool their money, and train all their collective firepower against their own front-runner.

Think of it as the nuclear option: deploying the most powerful and dangerous weapon available, the one you use when conventional warfare has failed. Just as with real nuclear weapons, that option carries clear risks, starting with losing the presidency in November, and ultimately threatening the party itself. But If a critical mass of Republicans and their conservative allies believe—as many have argued publicly, and more have privately whispered—that Trump could irrevocably undermine what the party says it stands for, and would pose a clear and present danger to the country if he ever attained the White House, it may now be their only chance.

What would the nuclear option look like? Even America’s nastiest political fights don’t offer much of a guide. Once the front-runner has accumulated a big enough delegate lead, resistance has been futile. Liberal and moderate Republicans turned to Pennsylvania Gov. William Scranton just before the 1964 convention hoping to avert Barry Goldwater’s nomination; they didn’t. In 1972, moderate and conservative Democrats mounted a rules challenge at the convention to strip liberal George McGovern of his slate of California delegates, but couldn’t pull that off either. Jimmy Carter faced an “anybody but Carter” challenge from some in his own party,and lost seven late primaries to California Gov. Jerry Brown and Idaho Sen. Frank Church in 1976, but his lead by then was simply too big to overcome.

Today, the response would have to be at a whole other order of magnitude—an unprecedented shock to the system that would force those all but most Trump’s impassioned supporters to rethink the consequences of his nomination. It would involve a clear declaration by as many voices as possible that Trump would be unacceptable as a president, accompanied by a massive media campaign designed to undermine the core of his appeal. It would mean a frontal attack on his character and temperament—and a willingness to absorb all the blows he is brilliantly capable of launching. It’s not clear that they could even pull it off at this late date—and if you look at what the options really are, it’s not clear the party would avoid serious long-term damage if they did. But at this point, this implausible nuclear option is the only remotely plausible approach.


What comes first? The most obvious step is that the party needs to settle on an alternative candidate. There’s no point fighting a war unless you’re fighting for something—or someone. This was supposed to be Jeb Bush, until it wasn’t. Now, the task for Trump’s foes is to clear the field.

cruzokcWhat’s not clear is how this is supposed to happen. For instance, is there anything in Ted Cruz’s public life that suggests he’d subordinate self-interest to the needs of a Republican Party he has spent years attacking? Indeed, one of Trump’s strengths has been the feeling among just about the whole mainstream Republican universe that Cruz is like an earlier GOP Texas senator, Phil Gramm, of whom it was said: “Even his best friends can’t stand him.” And with Governor John Kasich waiting for redemption in Michigan and his home state of Ohio, he’s unlikely to leave the field soon enough to be helpful.

rubioThe emerging likeliest alternative to Trump, of course, is Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who has picked up endorsements from a spate of elected officials and onetime Bush supporters. But even apart from the fact that he has not won a single primary yet, and that polling does not show him as a superior choice to Kasich, he seems unwilling or unable to lead a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. Calling some of Trump’s views “worrisome,” as he did last Sunday, is not exactly a call to arms. And until Thursday night—very late in the game—Rubio’s performance in debate did not inspire confidence in his ability to turn to Trump, as Mitt Romney did to Newt Gingrich four years ago, and effectively skewer him face to face.


Beyond the choice of an alternative lies a more fundamental question: What is the case against Trump? The strategy needs to start with an understanding of just what makes him so much less acceptable than other candidates who have engendered serious opposition within a party.

The first crucial issue is temperament. Anyone who has served or studied presidents in times of crises knows that the most serious danger in a president is an unjustified certainty in his or her own assumptions. The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, for example, could well have ended with nuclear war, but for President John F. Kennedy’s repeated insistence on taking the most cautious of steps, always leaving him and his Soviet counterpart room to maneuver. The absolute refusal of Trump to admit error—ever; his insistence that something is true because he says it’s true; his dismissal of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary—is a recipe for disaster in the White House.

reaganBut to work on the Republican electorate, it is a case that has to be made well outside the op-ed pages of the New York Times. It would require men and women who’ve served Republicans in the Oval Office—especially those who were foot soldiers and generals in Ronald Reagan’s presidency—to argue that Trump is not the bearer of the Reagan legacy, but its betrayer. (Reagan’s last convention speech, in 1992, was a celebration of the immigrant experience). It would require retired military leaders to explain that Trump’s ignorance about the world and the military would lead to disastrous decisions that would endanger the lives of countless men and women in uniform, and that his ludicrous proposal to ban Muslims threatens America’s strategic interests around the world. Their message must be: He says he will make America great; in fact, he will make America weaker. Then let him call the men and women who have spent their lives protecting America “dumb” and “losers.”

It would require some of the same candidates who pledged to support any nominee to announce that Trump’s behavior over the course of the campaign has forced them to change their minds. It might even require the last two Republican standard-bearers, Mitt Romney and George W. Bush, to weigh in. This isn’t unreasonable to expect: Bush’s views on reaching out to Muslims, and on immigration and the danger of nativist appeals do not exactly square with Trump’s views. And Romney may have already begun: In a recent TV interview, he raised questions about a potential “bombshell” in Trump’s tax filings, and he did it again via Twitter during Thursday’s debate. Whoever the players, a concerted campaign along these lines would require putting JFK’s “sometimes party loyalty asks too much” observation to a stress test unlike any in history.

In addition to being “a stress test unlike any in history,” it also is a dangerous game with historic ramifications.

Print pagePDF pageEmail page
  1. Larry, 29 February, 2016

    The GOP ‘leaders’ could be in a position of not having any followers and losing their seats if they don’t get on board.

  2. Carrie Krapff, 29 February, 2016

    As a delegate to the RNC on 2012 I witnessed first hand the lengths that the party bosses will go to in order to control political outcomes. The GOP has lost it’s integrity. Conservative principles and ideas are better. Unfortunately, the political ruling class does not adhere to them and citizen Republicans do not hold them accountable. We gave them the House and the Senate and what have they done with it? Grown the size of government, grown the debt, Patriot Act II (why do they always name things the opposite of what they are?), more foreign entanglements, interference and meddling in the business of sovereign nations, failed to protect our rights, and so on and so on ad nauseam. This is why the GOP does not attract young people. They, like dogs, (as the saying goes) instinctively discern a rat when confronted with one.


Copyright © The McCarville Report