The Republican National Convention hasn’t even happened yet, and presumptive Presidential nominee Donald Trump is already torpedoing his campaign.
It was supposed to happen at some point–the pivot, the turn to “Presidential” behavior. Trump would shed his racist, populist primary skin and emerge as a respectable Republican candidate, a man of measured statements and considered thoughts.
It didn’t happen.
Instead, he railed against a judge hearing a civil case against him, slamming the man’s “Mexican heritage” (despite the judge being born in Indiana). And most recently, he patted himself on the back after the Orlando shooting, citing it as proof of his prescience, as if he could’ve somehow gone back in time and prevented Omar Mateen’s parents from emigrating to the US.
What plays well with the frothing conservative base is repellent to the rest of America, though. And his self-centered behavior of late, unaccompanied by sufficient red meat for his supporters, has even left many of them scratching their heads. Who cares about some civil suit? And who cares if Trump was right that some nebulously-defined instance of radical Islamic terror would unfold? (Noting here, for the sake of clarity, that the Orlando shooter’s motives do not appear to have any strong links to ISIS or any other terrorist group, but rather that he was a troubled, angry lone wolf, with a history of violent and aggressive behavior. Not exactly some brilliant sleeper agent operation masterminded from Syria.)
Trump’s not becoming any more of a team player either, still finding himself at odds with the Republican leadership. He’s now going around, hat in hand, looking for money to build a real campaign organization–something he should have done months ago, if he was serious. And his message continues to alienate people outside the base that won him the primary, which is simply not a large enough demographic to hand him a victory in November.
Trump is counting on mobilizing millions of disaffected white voters, but those voters simply don’t exist. If they did, they’d have come out of the woodwork to vote for Romney in 2012. Trump is currently putting himself on a course to lose even more badly than Romney did by alienating Latino voters, moderate Republicans, and (the admittedly dwindling) independent voters. For every minority voter Trump drives away, he would likely have to replace them with two or three times as many white voters in order to find a winning map in November. Suffice it to say, those voters don’t exist.
Republicans, usually famous for obeying Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment to “never criticize a fellow Republican,” are now coming out in droves to question Trump’s basic fitness for office:
The Republican Party’s last nominee for president, Mitt Romney, hosted a gathering of hundreds of Republican conservatives in Park City, Utah, devoted to assailing his successor, Donald Trump. Romney’s former running mate, Paul Ryan, the once-revered speaker of the House, was grilled for supporting the candidate whose recent remarks the speaker himself called “a textbook case of racism.” In another speech, a recent GOP nominee for governor of California—Meg Whitman—explicitly compared the nominee to Hitler and Mussolini. What was so remarkable about these and other acerbic remarks made at Romney’s gathering of GOP donors and business people was that they came from inside the party Trump will soon lead into battle. And they stem from doubts not about Trump’s policies, but about his fundamental fitness for the office. Dan Senor, former Romney adviser and Bush White House national security aide, even said that Trump’s comments about Obama suggest “there should be serious concern” about sharing classified information with Trump—information presidential nominees regularly receive.
Trump’s poll numbers are also collapsing. He hasn’t even been nominated yet.
This is, frankly, almost without precedent. The GOP has, over the past several years, assembled an adept political machine, one that has compensated for the relatively poor quality of candidates and their messages. Initiatives like Project Redmap, huge amounts of super PAC money, and grassroots Tea Party organization have given Republicans a state-level advantage for several years now. While their power within specific states is not likely to be significantly harmed by a Trump flameout, given his lack of a national organization and turmoil in his relationship with the party, there may well be serious downticket consequences here. Those would be the real victory, should Trump collapse all the way into November.
The GOP may well be scrambling for alternatives. Is there a way to nominate someone else? Not without breaking the party’s own rules, which is extremely risky–it may send the Trump delegation into revolt. Given the violence that’s already marred various Trump events, and the characteristic vitriol and hostility they embody, woe betide anyone who tries to stand in Trump’s way in July. Assuming Trump is officially nominated, the GOP must either go full-force in supporting him, or work swiftly to limit his damage. The former is almost certain to lead them to defeat anyway. The latter is their only hope of protecting their Congressional majority, and I still rate that as relatively dim, albeit something that’s more likely than a Trump win.
Should the party try to do both at once, it will almost surely disintegrate. And that seems to be what we’re seeing now. Some Republicans support him; others don’t. The battle lines between them are being drawn ever more clearly each day. To whatever extent the Bernie Sanders campaign was damaging Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, it’s fair to say that the GOP is now tearing itself apart in a more egregious fashion over Trump’s. It is now evident which candidate is going to exit their convention with a unified party behind them, and it won’t be .