The question now isn’t whether Republicans should finally take a stand against Donald Trump, but how.
Obviously Mitt wasn’t the answer.
And little Marco wasn’t the answer.
And Jeb! wasn’t the answer.
And the craven Republican leadership, which had welcomed Donald the Birther to the party in the first place, isn’t the answer.
So, what’s left?
Most of the other important questions in the wild 2016 campaign were answered Tuesday. Hillary Clinton had a huge night, winning in at least four of five states — and maybe Missouri, too, which is a near tie — reclaiming a large chunk of the industrial Midwest, adding to her substantial pledged delegate lead and effectively ending any chance, short of a Hillary indictment, for Bernie Sanders to win. (This was the week Bernie had Michigan momentum and Hillary’s AIDS gaffe and a big fight with Trump to gear up the vote and the revolution finally getting some attention in the press and, well, everything he could have hoped for except enough votes.)
Trump had a similarly huge night, humiliating little Marco in his own state, causing Rubio to drop out of the race, winning at least three states — again, Missouri looks like a tie, but with Trump slightly ahead — and leaving Republicans with either the loathsome Ted Cruz or the sweetly delusional John Kasich as the remaining contenders to bail them out.
If that sounds bad for Republicans, it was actually much worse than that. This was the first Tuesday after the canceled rally in Chicago, during which a near-riot broke out and after which Trump rushed to the defense of the violence that has come to be a trademark of his events. Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign manager was being accused of manhandling a Breitbart reporter, and Republicans like Romney adviser Stuart Stevens were comparing Trump, and not favorably, to George Wallace, while accusing him of inciting violence and exulting in his “thugocracy.”
Getting compared to Wallace is a good day for Trump. Usually, it’s Mussolini. In any case, it’s clear to everyone who’s not a Trumpist what Trump is and what he might do to the party/country. In nine months, he has gone from bigoted buffoon to dog-whistling demagogue to favorite to win the nomination of a major political party. It looks like #neverTrump is turning into #nevermore.
So, what do Republicans do now? What can they do now? You’ll see even more prominent conservative columnists saying a Trump nomination would destroy the party. Liberals like me would have to point out that the Republican Party, playing all those years to those Trump supporters, has only itself to blame.
Some senators are now calling on Cruz, who has exactly one endorsement from his Senate colleagues, to apologize for calling Mitch McConnell a liar on the Senate floor, which would then possibly allow some of them to rally around him without gagging. But a faux apology wouldn’t make Cruz any less loathsome — or undo his calls for, say, carpet bombing in Syria or allowing only Christian refugees. The Clinton campaign would probably prefer to run against Cruz, the right-wing ideologue, than Trump, whose ideology is, let’s say, flexible.
Cruz’s strategy has been to get Trump in a one-on-one contest and play it from there. But with Kasich winning Ohio and pledging to stay in the race, that dream has ended. And Kasich, the winner of one whole state? He has to win something like 110 percent of the remaining delegates to win the nomination outright, which, if my math is right, is somewhere north of a long shot.
So the only plan left is a contested convention, which leads where? If Trump comes to Cleveland with less than a majority but, say, 40-odd percent of the delegates, does the party try to steal the nomination from him? And if they did, who would their candidate be? Wouldn’t Trump’s delegates walk if that happened? Wouldn’t Trumpistas bolt the party? Wouldn’t Cleveland be the new Chicago?
But if Republicans don’t stand up to him at the convention, then what? An anti-Trump Super PAC threw a bunch of money this week into the race, which got them next to nothing. The so-called wise heads of the party, like Paul Ryan, have promised to support whoever wins the nomination. I’m guessing Ryan would actually stay as far from the race as possible and that most brave Republicans (yes, that’s you, Cory Gardner) would follow.
Look at Rubio, who saw Republicans reject him and his call for a new future. But even while dropping out of the race, Rubio didn’t do the bold thing that might have saved his reputation — to say that he couldn’t support Trump and that no good Republican should.
And so, it was a Trump night through and through. He spent much of it sending out nasty Tweets about “crazy” Megyn Kelly, just daring Fox News to take him on. In his victory speech – he had promised a news conference but settled for calling reporters “disgusting” — he had campaign manager Cory Lewandowski standing right behind him (in what one pundit called the Chris Christie slot), letting everyone know that he had no intention of backing down, ever. If only his Republican enablers could say the same.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons, Flickr.