Andy Schmookler: Why is GOP establishment trying to stop Trump?
For a good while now, we have heard about how the Republican establishment is trying to stop Donald Trump from becoming the Republican nominee for president. The question arises: what is their reason for trying to stop him?
There could be some very good reasons.
For example, a recent New York Times/CBS poll found that 60 percent of Republican voters are “embarrassed” by Trump’s campaign. The poll does not provide any systematic data about what it is about Trump that is embarrassing to that majority of Republicans. But it is not hard to come up with a list of ways that Trump has violated America’s traditional norms for presidential behavior: his bullying, his eagerness to pick fights, the coarseness of his insults to opponents and to women, his seeming disregard for the truth, his unseemly bragging.
These Republican citizens may be embarrassed, then, by Trump’s acting overall in ways that are unsuitable for the role of the American president.
For all these reasons, one could imagine good reasons for the Republican establishment wanting to block Trump from becoming the Party’s standard-bearer.
But there are other possible reasons, too.
Their opposition, for example, could stem from the fear that Trump would lead the GOP into an electoral disaster. Recent polls show Trump trailing both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders by double digits. Trump’s unfavorable ratings are the highest ever recorded for a major presidential contender, and the people who have been running the Republican Party could be understandably fearful of being saddled with a nominee who could pull the whole ticket down.
Another possible reason is that the leaders of the Republican Party could oppose Trump because he is not “one of them.” That is, he has risen to his present political prominence owing nothing to the Republican Party, and having no serious ties to it. Not being in any way the creature of the party organization, Trump – if he became president – would likely be beyond the party’s ability to influence.
These two possible reasons – the desire to avoid the party’s being dragged down to defeat in November and the desire not to have the party led by someone who is not a member of their club – are both about power, not principle.
So which is the stop Trump movement about – power or American values?
It would be reassuring if it were about values. But the evidence suggests otherwise.
Consider a remarkable moment in a recent Republican debate. After Trump’s opponents had described Trump’s unsuitability to be president in the strongest terms – Marco Rubio had characterized Trump as a “con man” – these same men, in answer to a closing question from the moderator, all vouched that they would support Trump if he were the nominee.
If one truly believes that the nominee of one’s party is a con man, what does it say about one’s hierarchy of values if one vows to support him? Clearly loyalty to the party trumps concern for the good of the nation. For how can it be OK for the United States to have a con man as president and commander in chief?
Although there have been recent signs of softening — on the part of the other remaining Republican candidates – in their pledges to support the nominee, no matter who it is, for months the mantra among Republicans has been that even if Trump is the nominee, they will back him. Even while they are trying to stop Trump at the convention, according to most observers, they are also preparing to get behind Trump if he emerges as the nominee.
If their reasons for trying to stop Trump were about basic American values, don’t you think the establishment would simply repudiate him, refuse to support him?
Yet here is Paul Ryan, going out of his way not to criticize Trump by name, while he delivers a statesmanlike call for more civility in the presidential contest. Several columnists criticized as a failure of courage Speaker Paul Ryan’s apparently not wanting to offend the master of the insult.
In the big picture, hardly any establishment Republicans have declared that they would withhold their support from Trump, if he emerges as the nominee.
Many in the Republican base may be embarrassed by Trump, but their leaders seem ready to march behind him if it comes to that.
The realities of power trump the dictates of moral principle and trumps any dedication to basic American political norms and ideals.
Andy Schmookler’s new book is “What We’re Up Against: The Destructive Force at Work in Our World – and How We Can Defeat It.”