The Republican Establishment is in a panic.
Just read the New York Times. The headline?
Wary of Donald Trump, G.O.P. Leaders Are Caught in a Standoff
The story actually says this (emphasis mine):
WASHINGTON — For months, much of the Republican Party’s establishment has been uneasy about the rise of Donald J. Trump, concerned that he was overwhelming the presidential primary contest and encouraging other candidates to mimic his incendiary speech. Now, though, irritation is giving way to panic as it becomes increasingly plausible that Mr. Trump could be the party’s standard-bearer and imperil the careers of other Republicans
What follows is a tale of “leading Republican officials, strategists and donors” utterly terrified that Donald Trump would actually win the GOP nomination, followed close behind by the terror that if Trump doesn’t win, Ted Cruz will. And why are they concerned? Because, they say, of everybody “down ballot”—the senators, congressmen, governors and state legislators who would, they fervently believe, go down the drain were Trump or Cruz at the head of the GOP ticket.
To underline the point, one whiz bang GOP strategist in Ohio, unnamed, sent the Times reporter this Wikipedia entry on the 1964 House elections, in which the GOP lost 36 House seats with Barry Goldwater at the top of the ticket. One can only be agog at this.
First of all, as Goldwater himself knew when he decided to run in the first place, no Republican was going to win the 1964 election. Why? President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in late November of 1963. The country was traumatized and rallied to the support of the new president, Lyndon Johnson. While LBJ would eventually become one seriously unpopular president, primarily due to his Vietnam policy, in 1964 he was riding high. Liberalism and the belief that government could do anything was at flood tide. Goldwater was well aware of this and knew he or anyone else with the GOP nomination was headed for defeat. But he was convinced that the time to make the stand for the modern conservative movement in the GOP was at hand. His major accomplishment was to get the party on the road back to conservative principle and take the nomination process out of the hands of the Eastern GOP Establishment. Without doubt, in defeating liberal GOP icons Nelson Rockefeller and William Scranton he accomplished his mission.
With the GOP stable cleaned, the party had new energy. Two years later the GOP won 47 House seats and increased their numbers in the Senate. Among the gubernatorial winners was a million-vote landslide in California for Ronald Reagan. Two years later Richard Nixon would become the first of four elected Republican presidents who dominated the political scene from 1968 until 2008—a stretch of forty years.
Establishment Republicans love to talk about the “Big Tent,” a phrase of my old friend the late Lee Atwater. But Lee’s idea of a Big Tent and the current GOP Establishment’s idea of a Big Tent are two very different animals. Lee made a point of doing things like attending professional wrestling matches because he loved to talk to the people in the audience—which, to say the least, were hardly country club Republicans. In 1980 Ronald Reagan made it a point to court evangelicals who, it is now long forgotten, first appeared on the national political scene in 1976 as supporters of the born-again Jimmy Carter. That approach by Reagan brought a personal and political friendship with the Reverend Jerry Falwell. The “Christian Right” or “Religious Right” as its critics called it streamed into the Big Tent, along with Reagan Democrats—and GOP landslides ensued.
Stockman was merely emblematic of Establishment GOP figures who love to talk the inclusion game but when push comes to shove, they want to shove the conservative of the moment—Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and a long list of others—out of the tent.
The kicker? All of this “Big Tent” outreach drove the GOP Establishment of the day crazy. Jennifer Blei Stockman, the wife of ex-Reagan Budget Director David Stockman, had served as the head of the Republican Majority for Choice, a pro-abortion group favored by the GOP Establishment. In 2006 when Republican Senator Rick Santorum was running for re-election, Stockman, a Connecticut resident, took to the Op-Ed pages of The Philadelphia Inquirer to trash Santorum and the “Religious Right” that had been invited into the GOP’s Big Tent by Reagan himself. Stockman was merely emblematic of Establishment GOP figures who love to talk the inclusion game but when push comes to shove, they want to shove the conservative of the moment—Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and a long list of others—out of the tent.
One of the real reasons for the Establishment GOP panic over Donald Trump is that Trump is bringing in new blood to the GOP, as Reagan himself did over the howls of the GOP Establishment of his day. A look at the internals of the new Quinnipiac shows the same phenomenon with Trump that was on display with Reagan. Trump is running away with the Tea Party vote, the self-identified “Born Again Evangelical vote,” the “Very Conservative” and “Somewhat Conservative” vote, the “Moderate to Liberal vote,” not to mention the women’s vote and the men’s vote.
This is exactly what a Republican nominee needs to accomplish. To bring in those “outside the tent” regardless of religion, gender, race or political philosophy. Recall as well that December, 1979 Gallup poll that was published in the New York Times that had then-President Carter beating Reagan 60%-36%, with Carter pollster Pat Cadell saying he was “salivating” over all the data in the poll that showed Carter would trounce Reagan. Also in the New York Times even earlier, in February of 1978, was a cover magazine story by longtime correspondent Tom Wicker pronouncing the GOP’s “divisive right-wing may be abating and the party may be moving toward a broader middle ground.” Two years later Reagan defeated Carter in a landslide, bringing in with him the first GOP Senate in over a quarter of a century.
Cut to today and this week’s latest Times prediction of disaster and nothing, nothing, has changed in the almost forty years since those dire predictions that Reagan would doom the GOP. The current GOP-is-doomed piece has this wonderful quote:
“There is not a bit of confusion among our members that if Donald Trump is the nominee, we’re going to get wiped out,” a prominent Republican senator said about Mr. Trump’s effect on Senate races in states such as New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Ohio.”
The Pennsylvania race involves conservative Senator Pat Toomey. Toomey himself was accused by the late liberal Republican Senator Arlen Specter of being incapable of winning a statewide election because he was too conservative. Much like the predictions of disaster with Reagan that turned out to be wildly wrong. In New Hampshire, Kelly Ayotte has made a point of going the Establishment route—she’s in with the climate change crowd and the anti-Ted Cruz crowd. If she loses, one suspects it will be because she long ago abandoned principle to run towards the middle. Donald Trump will hardly be responsible for her defeat if that’s what happens.
The real question here is one that Reagan often asked. Why victory? To what end? If all this is about is “winning” in order to be “Democrat-lite” or just managing the latest socialist ratchet turn to the Left—instead of governing as a conservative—what’s the point of winning? The GOP Establishment never seems to get the point. Which is why, in spite of their rhetoric, they are seriously vested in a losing status quo.
And whatever else that long piece about panic in the GOP over Trump—and Cruz—says, that is precisely why they fear both men. Because the election of either means the status quo is toast.