Six months ago Donald Trump announced that he was entering the race for the Republican Party’s nomination for President of the United States. And almost from the very start there has been nervous prattling about whether he might ditch the Party and run as an independent if he failed to get the Party’s nod.
Trump himself has been most responsible for keeping that chatter going. At the first GOP debate on Fox News the candidates were asked whether any of them would refuse to endorse whoever won the nomination. Trump’s was the only hand that went up. Subsequently, the Republican National Committee prepared a loyalty pledge that all candidates had to sign if they wanted to participate in future debates. Trump made a big show of signing on, however, a few weeks later he complained that he might not honor the pledge if he didn’t feel he was treated “fairly.” Most recently, Trump was asked again during CNN’s GOP debate if he was “ready to assure Republicans tonight that you will run as a Republican and abide by the decision of the Republicans?” He answered “I really am. I’ll be honest, I really am.”
If anyone believes that, I’ve got a casino in Jersey to sell you. Since Trump has already made a public statement that he could renege on the written pledge that he signed, why would anyone trust that he would keep any promises made on a debate stage? Especially when all he said was that he is “ready” to assure Republicans of his loyalty, not that he was actually doing so. That’s more than a little wiggle room for a weasel like Trump.
So what this boils down to is that those who are asking whether Trump might bolt the GOP are asking the wrong question. What they should be asking is whether the rest of the candidates will bolt if Trump is nominated.
The stain that a Trump nomination would put on the Republican Party is not one that could ever be thoroughly cleansed. It would leave the Party stigmatized by racism, ignorance, fear-mongering, and the stench of an elitist, billionaire narcissist who has contempt for both domestic and international law. There is good reason to wonder whether there would be a viable Republican Party after a Trump campaign. Consequently, it might make more sense for the remaining GOP candidates to join together in a new party and challenge both Trump and the Democratic nominee.
The knee-jerk complaint to that suggestion is always that such a move would guarantee a Democratic victory in November. Indeed, it would. However, it’s fair to say that the nomination of Trump would also guarantee a Democratic victory. Republicans are going to have a hard enough time next year given the Electoral College advantage that Democrats hold. Add to that a candidate who is not likely to attract the votes of African-Americans or Latinos in numbers greater than single digits and it’s a safe bet that Trump would lose in an historic rout.
That scenario would also have a negative effect on down-ballot races. The likelihood of Trump hampering GOP candidates for the Senate and the House is pretty strong. Given that Trump routinely rates highest in polls of Republicans as the candidate that they would definitely not support, many of them could be counted on to stay home. Meanwhile, Trump would motivate more Democrats to the polls than would any of the other GOP candidates. This would almost certainly result in a Democratic majority for the Senate and, at the very least, a significantly bigger caucus of Democrats in the House.
So the choice Republican would have to make if Trump becomes their nominee is: Do we want to lose the presidential election, many congressional races, and our good name? Or do we want to lose the presidential election and salvage our reputation so that we can go on to fight another day?
It would be a stretch for many in the GOP to pretend that they actually support Trump. When Scott Walker, Rick Perry, and Bobby Jindal, bowed out of the race, they all scorched Trump as a disaster for the Party. In the debates we’ve seen Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie sharply condemn Trump. They may not be serious contenders for the GOP nomination, but they are all governors of electorally important states. And if they, in solidarity with the majority of Republicans who are not supporting Trump, were to join forces for a third party campaign, they might just be able to save the ideology of a more moderate, viable conservatism.
This new party could nominate their own candidate for 2016. They could lean on the historical icons of Reagan and Goldwater, both of whom would be considered too liberal for the GOP’s current far-right flank. They could claim the mantle of an anti-establishment revolution that is rejecting the fetid corpse of Trump’s Republican Party. They could exploit the trend toward independents who now outnumber Democrats and Republicans. And they could leave the ruins of the GOP to the festering Tea Party.
How Fox News Deceives and Controls Their Flock:
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.
As an illustration of why this sort of split is necessary, consider these results from a recent poll of Republicans: 54% support banning Muslims from entering the U.S. 28% support shutting down mosques. 26% say Islam should be illegal. 28% approve of Japanese internment camps during WWII. And pitifully, 30% support bombing Agrabah, the fictional country from Disney’s Aladdin. In each of these issues the numbers were driven by the Trump/Tea Party faction of the GOP. Serious conservatives would be well rid of them.
The only question that remains is whether the non-Trump faction of the GOP is smart enough to recognize the benefits of what may be a painful, but necessary divorce. If I had to guess, I would say “No friggin’ way.” There is simply too much ideological stagnation in the party, and too strong of a propaganda machine in the wingnut media – dominated by Fox News and talk radio. So look for the GOP to sink into irrelevancy if Trump is their nominee. It’s just a matter of time.
[Follow up:] It appears some prominent Republican pundits (Bill Krystal, George Will) are giving the third party idea some consideration.