Mud fight at the GOP corral

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.


  1. says

    History repeats itself. The republicans (Reagan, Bush 1, Cheney and Rumsfeld) armed the mujahadeen to fight the Soviets, but then found themselves the targets of the same weapons they had given them when they invaded the same place. In the same way, the republicans armed the “crazies” (as Karl Rove calls them) and now they have turned on the Reagan/Bush (1 and 2) republicans.

    They have created their own monster and don’t know how to kill it. As with Bush 2, they can think of no strategy except for a “surge”, an extra effort of the same failed tactics.

  2. John Smith says

    I think the election is Trump’s to lose -- the presidency not just the nomination. Just yesterday, John Oliver recently tried a hit piece against Donald Trump -- it fell horribly flat. If John Oliver can’t destroy Trump, no one can. Funnily enough, I think Hillary will lose the black vote horribly in the general election. Trump won’t take it, it will just be out of play. Corruption is really the only important issue but Bernie is losing the nomination because he has not related the problem of corruption to everyday problems and he is a poor campaigner. People are against corruption in principle. Hillary is a weak candidate (with brand loyalty) and a weak campaigner (with media & establishment support). Donald Trump can just point out her that her campaign chairman is a lobbyist for Wal-Mart, BP and Lockheed Martin. He can point out her actual record that Bernie has left mostly unchallenged. Heck, the speeches are an attack by Jon Stewart.
    As for the issues of how to relate corruption -- Wal-Mart doesn’t want a minimum wage hike. BP doesn’t want to address change effectively. Lockheed Martin makes you lean towards aggressive diplomacy. And so on. But another overlooked issue with corruption is that after giving corporate handouts, it means the government has less money to use for necessary tasks -- health care, food stamps, social security and infrastructure. The political dialogue becomes about cutting corners which leads to places like Flint.

  3. John Smith says

    Also, a moderate republican hurts Clinton more because they will both moderate themselves for the general election and Clinton and the establishment republican will end up looking all too similar and there will be a lot of cannibalism.

  4. John Smith says

    @Mano Whoops I forgot to type why Trump wins. Sorry for 3 posts in a row. This article ( is quite insightful, but it misses the fact that Trump has substantive attack paths on top of sensational attacks. Especially when it comes to corruption conflicts of interest and Hillary’s record (She was the swing on the disastrous Libyan intervention, Welfare and Crime bills -- Bernie fought hard against both bills though he compromised and voted for the crime bill, NAFTA and other trade bills etc). Of course this is if nothing new about Hillary comes out.

  5. John Smith says

    @Mano @Singham. Sorry 4 posts in a row now.
    The truth is nearly every issue (all except possibly LGBT rights and abortion) is traceable to corruption.

    Militarization of Police -- Military Industrial Complex creating unneeded weapons even by an over-equipped military
    Trigger Happy Cops & Mass Shootings -- Gun Industry propagating guns increasing the feeling of danger
    Mass Incarceration & deportation -- Private Prisons & Immigrant Detention
    Foreclosures -- Financial Industry Fuckery
    Infrastructure Issues -- General Shift in debate away from building bridges into cutting corners caused by less money available due to government handouts.
    Climate Change & Environmental Damage -- Lack of Industrial regulations & fossil fuel companies
    Healthcare Costs -- Insurance and Drug companies
    Education -- Shift in debate caused by lack of funding (I believe education does need an overhaul, but defunding it is still wrong) and Exam companies.
    Sensationalist Media -- corruption
    Abortion & LGBT -- Hard to connect, but the way for republicans to get religious voters and differentiate themselves from Democrats?

    If Sanders had done a good job of making these issues clear, he’d have won already. He is losing simply because he is a poor campaigner.

  6. Nick Gotts says

    First, I love the title!

    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?

    Well, that would be a way of handing the election to the Democratic candidate (i.e., Clinton, unless something very dramatic happens), without admitting that was what you were doing. And it would surely tear the party in half. I think more likely is acceptance of Trump, then lukewarm support in the presidential campaign, focusing defensively at the congressional and gubernatorial level. Since Clinton will have the wholehearted support of the Democratic establishment, I think she’d probably win, despite the real disadvantages John smith points out. But I’m not eager to see my prediction tested. However, the only two even minimally credible alternative Republican nominees are in their way just as repellent. But I think Trump and Clinton will effectivley wrap up the nominations tomorrow.

  7. John Smith says

    Well let’s look at Trump’s campaign style -- he is used to playing around the media, which effectively nullifies Hillary’s campaigning advantages. This is a general election where he can and will unload on everybody (no Obama hugging necessary) -- he just has to call the Democratic Party corrupt (which benefits from actually being true and backed up with LOTS of evidence). He can call out the media for their ties to the Clinton campaign! A Sanders endorsement of Clinton can be called a sellout -- it would only be fear of Trump in fact. Lukewarm support is good enough -- Sanders is getting NO real support in the Dem Primary (they aren’t even doing much Get Out The Votes cause those would be Sanders voters). Rince Priebus (RNC chair) is already talking about giving Trump lukewarm support. Hillary’s only significant advantage is Trump hatred (assuaged by making himself more moderate) and -- but she has strong negative favorability even though she is the only candidate without a negative campaign being run against her (Benghazi and Emails are not going to be the primary attacks against her). I do think she will win the nomination, but lose horribly in the general election. We need to be prepared for President Trump because nearly every fact is pointing to Trump winning the White House.
    While I think Trump would be a terrible president, I also think that Trump will not be as bad as Hillary would be -- Trump is change of a sort. He is a billionaire, but not really an oligarch. He intentionally tries to sound racist, but isn’t really. He knows he doesn’t know jack about foreign policy -- she thinks she does.Her foreign policy is about killing dictators and nothing else. She has supported every FP disaster in her lifetime. He is one answer to corruption. One step to help end it -- a message that we are through with corruption and with government should start working for the people. Through with neolibs and neocons. I think that the Republicans will end up accepting Trump, but I think this is the last year for the Democratic Party or at least the beginning of the end.

  8. says

    John Smith@#5:
    He is losing simply because he is a poor campaigner.

    I think he’s losing because he’s not convincing anyone that he’s actually against the system. This election is turning into a referendum against politics and dark money as usual and since Sanders has been part of that world forever it’s extremely unconvincing when he says he’s in favor of all kinds of reform but he’s also playing nice and being part of the big two party machine.

    I am actually starting to think Trump might win this. He could hammer Clinton to pieces and there are some voters who are disaffected enough they might prefer an outright con artist to an establishment insider. The nihilist in me is going to get a huge kick out of the shitshow we’re about to see, and is gibbering “let it all burrrrnnnnnnnn”

    I cannot even summon the words to say how much I hate the political class right now. A lot of people feel that way and might prefer a reality TV star to a politician. Sanders’ problem is that he’s been a proper democratic party politician for too long to have any credibility with the antipolitical voters. To them he’s more of the same with a slightly different slogan.

  9. John Smith says

    Marcus Ranum@#8
    Yes. He’s a poor campaigner. Look in 2012 he talked about finding a primary opponent for Obama because Obama cut 4 billion from social security and health care programs. He became a democrat after he started his presidential run -- only to have a chance of winning. Now in campaign season he’s hugging Obama halfheartedly as Obama is popular with minority voters. Why is he using Obama’s’ “A Future To Believe In” when he should be using “A Bettter Deal” from FDR? He should have come outright against Obama’s policies. He caucused with the dems because he agrees with them more ideologically. He should own his distaste for the democratic party. Again, this is a poor campaign strategy.
    He isn’t talking about the economic or political factors that make his plans possible, instead giving examples. Poor campaigning.
    He hasn’t ever started attacking Hillary. Poor campaigning.
    He’s let the media walk all over him and not responded to the changed narrative. Poor campaigning.
    He uses the word establishment instead of the word corrupt. Poor campaigning. He should not talk about being the anti-establishment candidate, but the anti-corruption candidate.

  10. says

    John Smith@#9:
    He’s a poor campaigner.

    I think he’s campaigning in line with his beliefs. I.e: he’s a poor campaigner because he’s a lousy leader. It’s one of those chicken/egg questions.

  11. StevoR says

    @6. Nick Gotts : “But I think Trump and Clinton will effectivley wrap up the nominations tomorrow.”

    On that we agree. I think its now about 98% certain that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee and about 85% certain that Trump will be.

    @2. John Smith :

    Funnily enough, I think Hillary will lose the black vote horribly in the general election. Trump won’t take it, it will just be out of play.

    Why do you think that? I think Hillary Clinton has recently proven the opposite case that she can win and get out the African-American vote.

  12. Dunc says

    This election is turning into a referendum against politics […] I am actually starting to think Trump might win this.

    I think you’re right there, Marcus. I’ve been psychologically preparing myself for President Trump for a few weeks now, ever since reading this extremely thought-provoking and (to my mind, anyway) persuasive post from John Michael Greer: Donald Trump and the Politics of Resentment. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in current politics -- even if you don’t eventually end up agreeing with his conclusions, I think he identifies a number of important and controversial issues which are almost entirely ignored in mainstream discourse.

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