For a Wisconsinite who has been rather obsessed with the Republican presidential primary process, the two weeks leading up to our contest on April 5th were pretty amazing, as the candidates and the media concentrated so much attention on our state. For me, this year’s race has, unfortunately, been dominated by Donald Trump’s attempt to appropriate the GOP and it’s presidential nomination for his own self-serving ends. Somehow, millions of people have chosen to support him in this endeavor, which, should it succeed, would be an absolute disaster for the Republican party and the country. So, I am very glad that the voters of Wisconsin made a much wiser choice and gave Senator Ted Cruz a big victory, which was not expected just a short while ago. It’s nice to be able to be proud of the voters of my state for something related to a presidential election for a change, since it has been opting for liberal Democrats in general elections for many years. Some commentators speculated that the results in Wisconsin might indicate that we had come to a turning point in the race, with the momentum swinging away from Trump. That would have been absolutely wonderful, but I can’t breathe easy yet. Alas, we are still a very long way from escaping the looming threat of a Trump nomination, and it actually seems as if the atmosphere may have already become much more pro-Trump again.
Even though there has been some positive, encouraging news during the last few weeks, including the outcome in Wisconsin and the success Senator Cruz has had securing delegates at state and local conventions, there are still plenty of troubling circumstances and developments surrounding the race to cause great concern. For one thing, despite his recent successes, Cruz won’t really have a chance to build momentum, because the next primary is in New York, where Trump has a big lead in the polls and is expected to pick up many delegates with a win in his populous home state. A week later, elections will be held in more states favorable to Trump, and I worry that each Trump victory might be the one to precipitate the stampede of support to the frontrunner that we usually see much earlier in a race. As spring proceeds, how much longer will less-intense skeptics of Donald Trump continue to treat the contest as undecided and competitive rather than “accepting” Trump as the presumptive nominee and preparing to back him in November’s general election?
It has been clear for many months now that, no matter what Donald Trump says or does, and no matter how terrible a time observers believe he is having during a particular stretch of the campaign, Trump still maintains a very significant level of support, generally about 35-40% of those voting or being polled as Republicans. It’s bad enough that these members of the public obviously don’t care that Trump lacks the knowledge, experience, and character to be anything other than an abysmal president, but a great many of them are also willing to join on to whatever ridiculous argument or position he might take next. For example, Trump has been complaining extensively about the various rules and procedures involved in the process of choosing a Republican presidential nominee. He was already unhappy about the requirement to have the support of an actual majority of delegates in order to win the nomination, but lately he has also been critical of the processes taking place in various states to select the people who will serve as delegates, railing especially against the recent caucuses in Colorado. Of course, Trump doesn’t like what has been happening because Ted Cruz and his campaign have been much more successful than Trump has in winning delegates chosen directly through means other than popular primaries as well as in getting actual supporters chosen to serve at the national convention in states that have voted. All of the rules that different state parties have adopted have been in place for some time and were not secret. They apply equally to all candidates and were certainly not adopted to hinder any particular “businessman”/reality TV star that almost no one would have expected to be in contention. The Cruz team learned the rules and put in a lot of effort to do as well as they could under them, while Trump and his people did not. None of this has stopped the staggeringly self-centered Trump from brazenly and dishonestly calling the process “rigged” and “undemocratic” and accusing Cruz of cheating and of stealing “his” delegates. Regardless of the fact that what Trump is saying is (as usual) not true, many of his supporters are willing to believe and echo his claims. Since Trump still gets such excessive media coverage without remotely balanced counter-arguments, I worry how much of the rest of the public may also come to believe the laughable story that Trump is somehow being treated unfairly in the Republican primary process.
In the last couple of weeks, there have been several discouraging stories about the responses Republican primary voters have given to various poll questions. Because of his many flaws, it is perfectly reasonable for a large number of Republican voters to say they would not support Donald Trump if he were to become the nominee, but, sadly, there were also many people who said they would not back Ted Cruz if he were to win the nomination. This wouldn’t particularly surprise me if the sentiment is coming from Trump fans who think that only he is deserving of their votes, but I find it quite disheartening to think that some others who may see Cruz as too conservative or polarizing may also take this position. Polls of Republicans also reportedly show that people aren’t really interested in having a fight for the presidential nomination at the national convention and that most think the candidate who has won the most delegates should get the nomination, even if he does not have a majority. This past week, an RNC member offered up the opinion that Trump would probably win if he had at least 1100 delegates, and we’ve also been hearing that some party “insiders” and officials are again saying things that suggest they may be moving toward some sort of acceptance of the idea of a Trump nomination -- that now, despite all the polls showing Trump would be easily beaten by the Democrats, they think that perhaps, with help from the Republican party and associated organizations, he could actually win. Sigh...
What all of these things tell me is that a lot of people, including voters and even party officials and officeholders, still are not taking this election and the jaw-dropping awfulness of a potential Donald Trump nomination seriously enough. First off, Republicans who are not under Trump’s spell need to accept that the person who has a chance to stop him from accumulating enough delegates to win the nomination is Senator Ted Cruz, and they should not undermine his efforts to do so. (Memo to John Kasich: Since the chance you believe you have to be nominated at the convention requires limiting Trump’s successes in the remaining primaries, maybe it would be in your interest to criticize him rather than Cruz.) Since the race began with so many candidates, many voters will have previously preferred other candidates to Cruz, but there is no reason for any traditional Republican to oppose or refuse to vote for him should he be the nominee. He is a solid, conservative Republican who could represent the party well in the general election campaign and as president, if given the opportunity. Any concerns people might have about Cruz’ style or about past conflicts with Senate colleagues should certainly not be strong enough to make sensible voters refuse to support him and to let Trump or a Democrat win instead. The election is far too important for that.
The future direction of the party and the nation are at stake here, and everyone really needs to realize that as soon as possible and act accordingly. Of course this is something worth battling about at the convention. Far from being treated unfairly in the nominating process, Trump has benefitted from a system that was set up to favor front-runners, and this needs to be broadcast far and wide. The need for a candidate to win a majority of delegates at the convention should be explained, reinforced, and defended at every opportunity. The nomination should not be given to someone who cannot gain this much support just because he insists he is entitled to it or because some people think, “Gosh, he’s kind of close, we should just be generous and let him win.” We’re not talking about awarding the prize for best pie at the county fair here -- this is about choosing the person who will be Republicans’ and conservatives’ standard-bearer in a fight to lead the country in a better direction.
If there is no majority winner on the first ballot, we can only hope that many delegates initially bound to Trump will abandon him at the first opportunity and vote instead for a far better option, such as Ted Cruz. I don’t think the party should at all hesitate in welcoming such an occurrence. It certainly should not give in to the idea that it might look better to TV viewers and be “less trouble” to go along with the Trump “highest total should win” attitude, avoid the disruptions his outraged supporters might cause if he isn’t nominated, and just try to minimize the coming electoral damage at all levels. For one thing, there are also large numbers of Trump opponents who would be extremely upset if he is nominated, especially if there was a chance to avoid doing so. Also, it would just be wrong to reward a campaign that has tried to use not-so-subtle threats of personal exposure and large-scale unrest to intimidate delegates and the party into giving Trump what he wants. Furthermore, if concessions are made to Trump regarding the rules and the convention nominating process due to his “popularity” with a certain segment of the public and a fear of what might happen if he doesn’t get his way, I can only imagine the wide array of traditional Republican values and policy positions that will be cast aside from the party platform to accommodate Trump’s liberal, unorthodox, or even bizarre views.
Should that happen, what would be the point of still having a Republican party, and how could other GOP candidates, office-holders, and voters deal with the conflicts between what they have always believed and the things being said by the new supposed “leader” of the party? To those whose main goal is not the destruction of the Republican party, this would be a terrible thing, so every effort should be made to prevent Trump -- someone who is not really a Republican, let alone a conservative -- from assuming the position at the top of the ticket. After all, if Trump does become the nominee, Republicans and conservatives will have already been defeated, no matter what the outcome of November’s general election may be.