Monday, December 21, 2015

Will the GOP Mount a Third-Party Challenge to Trump?

With Donald Trump continuing to top the GOP polls and the Frankenstein Monster that is the GOP party base increasingly out of control and alienating all but white religious extremists and white supremacists (and some vulture capitalists), the GOP establishment is increasingly faced with a Trump nomination and an electoral disaster next November.  In some ways, it is the logical culmination of the process that was started when the Christofascists and racist elements were opportunistically welcomed into the GOP.  Now the cancer is out of control.  Some now think that should Trump win the party nomination, a third party run by a sane Republican (a truly relative term) might be in the offing to "save the GOP" for the future even if 2016 is a massive defeat.  A piece in Politico looks at the possible prospect.  Here are highlights:

Donald Trump may have eased some Republican fears Tuesday night when he declared his intention to stay inside the party. But if their angst has been temporarily eased at the prospect of what he would do if he loses, they still face a far more troubling, and increasingly plausible, question.
What happens to the party if he wins?

With Trump as its standard-bearer, the GOP would suddenly be asked to rally around a candidate who has been called by his once and former primary foes “a cancer on conservatism,” “unhinged,” “a drunk driver … helping the enemy.” A prominent conservative national security expert, Max Boot, has flatly labeled him “a fascist.” And the rhetoric is even stronger in private conversations I’ve had recently with Republicans of moderate and conservative stripes.

This is not the usual rhetoric of intraparty battles, the kind of thing that gets resolved in handshakes under the convention banners. These are stake-in-the-ground positions, strongly suggesting that a Trump nomination would create a fissure within the party as deep and indivisible as any in American political history, driven both by ideology and by questions of personal character.

Indeed, it would be a fissure so deep that, if the operatives I talked with are right, Trump running as a Republican could well face a third-party run—from the Republicans themselves.

That threat, in turn, would leave Republican candidates, contributors and foot soldiers with painful choices. A look at the political landscape, the election rules and the history of intraparty insurgencies suggests that it could turn 2016, a year that offered Republicans a reasonable chance to win the White House and with it total control of the national political apparatus, into a disaster.

In 1964, when Republican conservatives succeeded in nominating a divisive champion of their cause in Barry Goldwater, liberal Republicans (there were such things back then) like New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Michigan Governor George Romney and others refused to endorse the nominee. More shockingly, the New York Herald-Tribune, the semi-official voice of the GOP establishment, endorsed Lyndon Johnson—the first Democrat it had supported, ever. With his party split, Goldwater went down in flames.

Would a Trump nomination be another example of such a power shift? Yes, although not a shift in an ideological sense. It would represent a more radical kind of shift, with power moving from party officials and office-holders to deeply alienated voters and to their media tribunes. . . . This possibility, in turn, has provoked strong feelings about Trump from some “old school” Republicans. Says one self-described “structural, sycophantic Republican” who has been involved at high levels of GOP campaigns for decades: “Hillary would be bad for the country—he’d be worse.”

If you want to see the most sulfurous assaults on Trump, don’t look to the editorial pages of the New York Times or the comments of MSNBC personalities; look instead to the most prominent media voices in the conservative world: National Review, The Weekly Standard, Commentary and the columns of George Will and others. In part, they deplore his deviations from the conservative canon; deviations that former Reagan aide and onetime FCC Chairman Dennis Patrick summarizes this way: “Many of my colleagues from the Reagan administration would have a hard time pulling the lever for Trump. We weren’t just Republicans, we were conservatives. It is very difficult to square any principled theory of conservative governance with much of what Trump says."

But it’s more, much more than policy that has stirred the ire on the right: It’s the vulgarity, the fusion of ignorance and arrogance, the narcissism, the dissembling on matters great and small. The composite portrait of Trump painted by these outlets—leavened only by a grudging acknowledgment that he’s touched on legitimate concerns about immigration and terror—makes the idea of handing over the nuclear codes to Trump unsettling. And it makes the idea of embracing him as the alternative to Hillary Clinton somewhere between a reach and a lunge.

Whether he’s seen as an ideological heretic for his views on trade, taxes and government power or as a demagogue whose clownish bluster and casual bigotry make him temperamentally unfit for office, the odds on massive defections are very high.

But what kind of defections? Based on the folks I’ve talked with, it could take different forms. One is a simple, quiet step away from any work on behalf of the top of the ticket. That’s what the self-described “structural, sycophantic Republican”—will do.

He argues “a Trump nomination would virtually guarantee a third-party campaign from a more traditional Republican candidate.”

Why a Republican? The short answer is to save the party over the long term. “It's impossible to conceive that Republican leaders would simply forfeit their party to him,” he says. “Even without the formal party apparatus, they'd need to fly their flag behind an alternative, if only to keep the GOP brand somewhat viable for the future. Otherwise, it would be toxic for a long, long time.”

Trump would also be devastating to the party and other GOP candidates. A solid conservative third candidate would give options to senators like Ayotte, Johnson and [Mark] Kirk to run with someone else and still be opposed to Hillary. In fact, I think it’s plausible such a candidate could beat Trump in many states.”

The very fact that serious political thinkers are contemplating such a possibility demonstrates that when Republicans look at the perils posed by a third-party bid from Donald Trump, they may be looking in the wrong direction. It’s not Trump the Defector that could trigger the biggest threat to the party, but Trump the Nominee.

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