Tomorrow is Super Tuesday that sees a whole slew of primary and caucuses and is the day when the political and media establishment see whether their last ditch campaign to dethrone Donald Trump works. They have decided to throw everything at him in the hopes of blunting his progress. But the confusion into which he has thrown the establishment can be seen even here since it is not clear what they are hoping for as their best outcome.
On the one hand, a clean sweep by Trump of all the primaries would be a definite finger in their eye. Their best chance of preventing that would be for Ted Cruz to win in his home state of Texas. But that would be a mixed blessing since it would keep Cruz’s campaign alive and some feel that their best strategy is for the anti-Trump forces to coalesce behind one candidate. This requires Ted Cruz and John Kasich to quickly end their campaigns. Much to their annoyance, Kasich has so far resisted their entreaties and refused to quit until and unless he loses his home state Ohio primary on March 15. Nobody wants to talk to Ted Cruz except in a closet so he will go on.
But the longer they stay in the race and split the field, the more the ranks of the party establishment will split with elected Republicans starting to endorse Trump, undermining the party’s claims that he is not a true conservative and does not speak for them. One senator Jeff Sessions and two governors have already endorsed Trump and a sweeping win by him tomorrow could well prompt more to do so as they see which way the wind is blowing and that their own positions could be challenged if they run afoul of Trump supporters.
Complicating matters is that the idea that a two-person race would be won by the anti-Trump candidate has little empirical support. This idea germinated early in the crowded race when Trump was getting in the low 30% range in the polls and people assumed that this was his ceiling and that the others were splitting the anti-Trump vote. But the reality is that as others dropped out and the GOP field shrank, Trump’s numbers have risen. In a two-way race with Rubio, Trump leads 57% to 43%. Is it any surprise that party insiders and big donors are now even contemplating running an independent candidate in the event that Trump wins the nomination?
The GOP leadership has been adamantly claiming that they will abandon Trump if he is the party nominee. Senate leader Mitch McConnell has reportedly said that the party will “drop him like a hot rock” if he wins. Just yesterday, Rubio, who has been attacking Trump with all the vigor of a drunken frat boy, refused to say if he would support Trump as the party standard bearer. This is quite extraordinary. Recall the first debate when each one of the candidates was asked if they would support the eventual nominee. The question was targeted at Trump because he had hinted at the possibility of a third party run. All of them said they would except Trump and then we saw the big push to force him to agree to support the nominee. He reluctantly signed a pledge to do so though he said that he would walk away from it if he felt the party was treating him unfairly. Of course, this was at a time when the conventional wisdom was that Trump’s success was ephemeral and that he had no chance of winning the nomination so such a pledge was easy for the rest of them. Now it is they who are walking away from the pledge that they made him sign.
This split is spilling over into the surrogates too as many extreme conservatives who were once united are now fighting each other, such as Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. Other loudmouths like Ann Coulter have lined up behind Trump, while Rush Limbaugh seems to be supporting Ted Cruz. And Fox News seems to be enjoying the ratings but floundering as to whom to throw its weight behind.
Meanwhile Ted Cruz seems to think that alienating everybody on the planet is his road to success. Here he takes on even the GOP-friendly Fox News in this angry exchange with Chris Wallace.
I can’t figure out what the party’s strategy is or even if they have a coherent one. Suppose they somehow manage to deny Trump the nomination using some rules chicanery at the convention. Do they really think he will be a good sport about it and walk away, even give a gracious speech endorsing the party nominee? Of course not. He will be livid and launch a scorched Earth attack on the GOP that may well be much worse for them than embracing him. Keeping the angry Trump supporters in the fold may be safer for them than having Trump unleash them on the party from the outside.
So why is the party so adamantly anti-Trump? A clue can be gleaned in this interview with Matt Taibbi who has been attending the Trump rallies. He says that the inflammatory things Trump says about Mexicans and Muslims that get a lot of media attention are actually a very small part of his stump speech. Besides, those statements are things that are only marginally different from what the entire GOP says. The bulk of Trump’s speech is railing against the corrupt nature of politics and that politicians have been completely bought by special interest and lobbyists.
This critique of the entire system is what the political establishment cannot stand and why they are united against him, with the alliance crossing boundaries of parties and media and business. When Trump calls Karl Rove a “total moron”, he is attacking him as a symbol of a corrupt system.
This is of course true and is a critique that can also be leveled against most Democrats too, including Hillary Clinton, though not against Bernie Sanders which is why there is the phenomenon of some voters saying that they are trying to choose between Trump and Sanders. These two candidates are the only ones saying loud and clear that the system is rigged against ordinary people. This rings true to many and is also why, even though they have very different prescriptions when it comes to policies, the political and media and business establishment is united in its determination to destroy both of them.