One of the most tumultuous weeks in recent Republican Party history ended with a sort of détente.
Sen. Ted Cruz has painted GOP frontrunner Donald Trump as a liberal who will work with the Republican Party’s most vehement Democratic enemies in Congress. Sen. Marco Rubio has labelled Trump, over and over again, as a “con man.”
Yet, when pressed at Thursday’s debate, both senators said they’d support Trump if he ends up as the Republican nominee — a scenario that grows more and more likely by the day.
It was an odd, disjointed conclusion to a week that will long live in party lore. This was the week the party ruptured, its long-simmering civil war exploding out into the open by the brash billionaire from New York.
Many in the party are worried, for varying reasons, about whether it will cost them dearly in November.
Others are so terrified about the party’s future with Trump as their nominee that they’d rather have Hillary Clinton win the White House than stand behind Trump’s campaign in the general election.
GOP strategist Rick Wilson, a prominent Trump critic, told Business Insider why some Republicans are more focused on stopping Trump than Clinton:
Stopping Trump is most important. Hillary Clinton is a nightmare but she’s not actually clinically insane. She’d unify conservatives against her. Trump will destroy not only the GOP but also the modern conservative movement. He’ll also pollute the GOP brand for a generation.
Here’s a brief summation of the week, just from Thursday: The 2012 Republican nominee, backed up by the 2008 nominee, unloaded on the 2016 party frontrunner, who was backed up by the 2008 vice-presidential nominee.
Got all that?
“This week was a total disaster,” said a top Republican strategist and former 2016 campaign aide. “I don’t see how we come back from this.”
The week started and ended with veiled references to the frontrunner’s genitals.
Between the two references, there was little question about the Trump’s domination of the swath of states that voted on “Super Tuesday,” the most important day of the primary-election season.
But instead of rallying around someone — who, in most other nominating contests, would be the party’s presumptive nominee with this number of wins — Trump’s dominance has only emboldened those in the party who say they will refuse to support him.
The #NeverTrump movement exploded on social media this week. Their preferred candidates, Rubio and Cruz, savaged him on the campaign trail. The Republican 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney, launched an unprecedented attack on Trump, the party’s frontrunner, calling him a “fraud,” a “phony,” and a “con man,” among other things.
Trump’s critics are furiously plotting to deny him the nomination. One plan has Rubio beating Trump in his home state of Florida and Gov. John Kasich beating Trump in his home state of Ohio. Others are focused on trying to stop Trump from securing a majority of delegates, which would thwart Trump from winning outright at the convention, while some unifying hypothetical candidate — Romney? Paul Ryan? — steps in.
Wilson described the situation in fairly emphatic terms.
“German tanks rumble on moonlit roads outside Paris in 1940, but the city still parties like nothing is wrong,” the strategist told Business Insider. “The hot French summer of 1789 as the old order flees in darkened carriages for Calais. People rarely realise they’re in the middle of a huge historical inflection point; it’s the details that absorb attention.”
We are in that moment for the GOP, right this minute. There is a (currently) non-violent revolution inside the GOP and both the amplitude and frequency of radical distortions in what we thought Republicans politics and conservatism actually mean is increasing.
If the plans to stop Trump sound discombobulated and lacking cohesion, that’s because they are. Trump has secured 332 pledged delegates, according to a CNN estimate. The next closest candidate is Cruz, at 230, and Rubio, who is fast becoming the Republican establishment’s candidate of choice, is at just 113.
A New York Times analysis on Friday found that if the “Super Tuesday” voting patterns hold up through the rest of the primary season, Trump would be able to secure the 1,237 delegates needed to claim a majority. That is why many party leaders and GOP-leaning figures are urging Republicans to face reality and coalesce around Trump, their most likely nominee.
Alex Castellanos, a GOP strategist who urged donors to mount an anti-Trump effort early in the primary season, said it was time to get behind the businessman. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch said the GOP establishment would be “mad” not to unify around Trump if he became the “inevitable” nominee. Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and presidential candidate, urged Republicans to wake up and realise the stark choice between Trump and Clinton.
“I think he’ll be a really strong candidate,” Doug Watts, a former adviser to the campaign of retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, told Business Insider last week. “He’s as good as we’ve got.”
Romney argued that Republicans should take the fight all the way to the convention floor to block Trump’s nomination.
Others argue that a contested convention would be a disaster: a recipe for Clinton’s election to the White House. Indeed, Romney’s speech lambasting Trump overshadowed seemingly significant developments in the FBI investigation into whether any classified material was mishandled in connection to the private email account Clinton used at the State Department.
About 35% of the Republican electorate in the states that have voted so so far has voted for Trump, and polls have found that Trump’s supporters are committed to their candidate. And any attempt to launch an 11th-hour coup against Trump at the convention would inevitably result in intense backlash from the frontrunner’s many fans.
GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak, the president of the Potomac Strategy Group, told Business Insider that was simply no good solution for the establishment’s Trump dilemma. He argued instead that there was still time for other scenarios to come to fruition, such as a “unity” ticket between Cruz and Rubio.
“I fear that there will be a revolt if Trump loses after the first ballot if he has a significant delegate lead going in,” Mackowiak said.
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