by John Ellis
Almost every day now, I receive text messages from friends aghast at what’s taking place in the Republican primary. They stare in horror as Donald Trump marches in lock step towards the Republican nomination; an eventuality that will pretty much ensure that Hillary Clinton will be our next president. This frightening turn of events was almost unfathomable a few months ago. One of the most tragic things about the hijacking of the Republican Party by Trump is that it was unavoidable.
Trump has a sizeable core group of supporters who are so committed to him that they would continue to support Trump even if he were to shoot someone in Times Square. Unless, of course, as I read one commenter claim, “he shoots my granddaughter.” It appears that even Trumpkins have a line that they are uncomfortable crossing. But Trump doesn’t have enough core supporters to secure him the nomination, much less the general election, without outside help. Granted, much of that help is coming from Democrats who are voting in an open primary for a Republican candidate that is almost universally loathed by the vast majority of general election voters.
However, the people most to blame for the ascension and probable coronation of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee aren’t Democrats voting in open primaries, or even the angry, frightened, and uniformed voters who believe that Trump would make a good president. The lion’s share of the blame falls on the Republican Leadership because of their hubristic shortsightedness.
Donald Trump could’ve been easily beaten. In fact, this reality TV charlatan could’ve been barred from even getting into the GOP tent. But the leaders of the Republican Party were so busy schmoozing with each other at the V.I.P. entrance that they failed to notice that a sizeable portion of their base had begun to rip a large hole in the side of the tent. Turning around too late, the Republican leadership discovered that they were now participants in a circus with a smarmy, evil puppet master as its main attraction. Trump has now ensconced himself as the Republican ringmaster.
It’s not like the Republican leadership wasn’t warned. The ground under their polished Brooks Brothers has been noticeably shifting and shaking for quite some time. Despite the fact that many Middle Americans have been increasingly vocal about their growing displeasure and distrust of the Republican establishment, the GOP plugged their ears and continued business as usual. Many pundits warned the GOP that Trump was going to hijack their party. But, back in late summer, as Trump dominated news cycle after news cycle with his debate antics and increasingly inflammatory rhetoric, the GOP leaders insisted that Trump didn’t have a ground game, candidates who lead early in the polls always falter, and his supporters won’t actually vote anyway. Ignoring the growing chorus of dissent among their base and shrugging off the warnings of pundits, the Republican establishment fell prey to their own success; they were unable to empathize with a scared and hurting electorate.
During those late summer months and into fall, I had several conversations with Republican insiders who insisted that Trump wasn’t a threat. While everything that they told me made sense, I was still concerned by the tenor of the public conversation and the darkening mood of this country. Humans are complex and contradictory, and, whenever angry, scared, and hurting, have a tendency to defy logic and ignore the rules of whatever sociological game they’re forced to play. Humans, after all, are not formulas and frequently rebel against the law of non-contradiction.
Coming off the demonstrations at the University of Missouri, the ugliness at Yale University, and the increasing boldness of the Black Lives Matter movement, Middle America’s fear was becoming unhinged as the holidays approached. And that fear seemed to be growing at an exponential rate. In early December, I sat in an Arlington, VA BBQ restaurant and listened as two in leadership within the Republican establishment assured me that there was almost zero chance that Donald Trump would win the nomination. I asked them about the mood of the Republican base, and was told, “They’ll come around. Trump looks attractive to them now, but when it’s time to actually vote, they’ll come to their senses.”
Over the last ten months, as the election season heated up, I spoke with several men and women with various degrees of connection to the Republican establishment. All of them are incredibly smart, full of integrity, and knowledgeable of politics in ways that make my head spin. And almost all of them said basically the same thing – Trump wasn’t a threat.
Well, we’re three months into 2016, and Donald Trump is most definitely a threat. And the Republican Party now recognizes that. Some are nobly manning their hastily formed bucket brigade as they desperately attempt to douse the forest fire of rage stoked by Donald Trump. Others, steering into selfish pragmatism, have taken stock of which way the political wind is blowing. Selfishly abandoning things like integrity and common sense, those political opportunists have greedily grabbed at whatever gasoline can their new leader deigns to push in their direction. Already, the aftermath of Donald Trump’s still-in-progress ascension is reverberating in incredibly negative ways around the United States of America.
Among the growing violence and increased division among Americans, the Republican Party is reeling from what may prove to be a mortal blow. Sadly, I believe that the potentially mortal wound is basically self-inflicted. Refusing to acknowledge the level of anger and fear (justified or not) smoldering within their base opened the door for Trump’s brand of self-gratifying incitement. Refusing to take seriously the threat posed by Donald Trump, the GOP failed to coalesce around a single candidate that would appeal to the overwhelming majority of Republican voters who do not want Trump as their President. Failing to listen and heed Middle America’s concern that the Republican Party has become more concerned with power than with the needs of the hard working men and women who gave them that power, the Republican Party appeared to abandon their base way before a sizeable portion of GOP voters embraced Donald Trump.
Further, and something that I’m not sure if the Republican leadership has taken into account yet, there is a deep shame among moderate, articulate Republicans who are conservative in ways that Russell Kirk would’ve recognized. They’re ashamed to be identified with what is now seen as the party of Donald Trump. I’ve heard from several of them who are completely finished with the Republican Party. After taking stock of the shift in the Republican base and the inexcusable pragmatism that has birthed the support of Trump among politicians and leaders who should know better, this growing rank of what has been the intellectual and loyal heart of the Republican Party has surrendered all faith and respect in the GOP. They feel betrayed. They feel abandoned. They are done. And they’re not alone.
Among conservatives, there are two main positions about the GOP’s future being currently bandied around. The first is to save the soul of the Republican Party from Donald Trump through a brokered convention. The other is to allow Trump to burn the GOP to the ground, while true conservatives start over. This second position has an eye on the Presidential election of 1860, depending on how certain unseen cards are eventually played.
Although I was assured by a source that the GOP has a plan in place to block the nomination of Trump, I have trouble believing that a brokered convention is necessarily the answer. That conversation took place in late fall, and, pushing back, I stated that considering voters’ distrust of the Establishment, any maneuvering by the GOP at the Convention will be seen as further proof the leadership isn’t concerned about the will of the people. In the general election, regardless of whom the Republican’s nominate, conservative voters will stay home and Hillary will win. My source sadly smiled, shook his head, and said, “We know. But if Trump wins the nomination, the Republican brand will be ruined for generations.”
I empathize with those who have given up hope. And, in regards to the GOP, I find myself in agreement with them on many days. But, I still have hope. I believe that out of the ashes of the 2016 Presidential election, true conservatives have the opportunity for a new genesis. I, too, am angry that the GOP leadership failed to stop Trump and, hence, the likelihood of at least four years of President Hillary Clinton. But the nearly impossible logistics of forming a new party that’s also viable temper my desire to participate in the charge to surrender the Republican Party to Trump and start anew.
For starters, if true principled conservatives abandon the Party, Trump, his minions, and Republicans willing to sell their soul to the devil will have free reign to rebrand the GOP in the image of the irrational, the scared, and the uninformed. The discourse within the United States of America will then finish its swan dive into the lowest common denominator. This past year will seem like the good ol’ days; true conservatives will be left behind as we tilt at windmills.
The amount of time needed to create a viable conservative party is within the arms of a clock that our current, social-media obsessed culture no longer uses to keep time. Trump’s Republican Party (probably renamed “the Trumplikan Party”) will have the luxury of not only keeping up with the constantly changing news cycle, but will have the means and ability to control the ebbs and flow of the news cycle. Truth requires nuance, and not requiring nuance may be Donald Trump’s most valuable resource. A true conservative party would probably not even get out of the starting gate before Trump’s brand of scorched earth bluster lays waste to the entire country.
For another thing, the death of the GOP is not fait accompli. Their shortsightedness aside, the GOP is well-stocked with men and women of integrity, knowledge, and a deep concern for their fellow American citizens. I have born witness to the love for his neighbors that burns in the soul of one of the most powerful men in America. I know high-ranking and very influential Republicans who are driven by a deep concern for the well-being of the people of their country. And they’re not alone. And not all of the political cards have been played.
At times, it’s hard for me to trust DC insiders, and I live in DC; I understand the frustration expressed by others who don’t have the opportunity to look in the eyes of political power players. As stated above, I place the lion’s share of the blame for Trump’s rise on the leadership of the Republican Party. However, I haven’t surrendered all faith because their rhetoric has changed. Even if they don’t fully understand the people’s anger, they’re now cognizant that it’s deeper than they realized. As they search for a path forward, it’s important for those of us who aren’t in politics to pray that God will give them wisdom, and to place a modicum of cautious trust in the men and women doing the incredibly hard job of running our country.
For the record, over the last week, my thinking has changed. The first draft of this article was a call to allow Trump to burn the GOP to the ground while true conservatives put our hands to the plow of building a new political party. But I’ve had several conversations (in person, text messages, and online) that have begun to rebuild my faith in the GOP. I have begun to walk back towards the belief that the Republican Party can be saved from within. I now believe that this is the time to coalesce around the GOP and allow the leadership to put a plan in place. That doesn’t mean, however, that I’m opposed to keeping an eye out for better options – i.e. forming a new conservative party, if need be.
One major caveat that may require the formulation of a new party is whether or not the GOP can keep the leadership’s toes on the anti-Trump line. Already, Senator Sessions, surprising those close to him, has supported Trump. There are rumblings that Sessions is attempting an organized effort at persuading others within the establishment to throw their weight behind Trump, too. Easing my concern, I’ve learned from one source close to Senator Sessions that the meeting isn’t an attempt by Sessions to broker a deal between Trump and the “Party establishment,” but more of a meet and greet in order to convince those in the Republican Party who are undecided to not come out in support of Cruz. I’ve also been assured that any movement within the GOP leadership towards capitulating to Trump will trigger a coupe among true conservatives in the Party. By the end of the week (if not day), a better picture should emerge that will provide clarity to the possibility of the GOP leadership selling out conservative principles for greedy opportunism. If the wind shifts drastically in that direction, I’ll write a different article.
Over the coming weeks, as we wait to see what the larger picture is going to look like, resist the urge to surrender all hope; give true conservatives in the GOP the time to maneuver. Do not abandon the Republican Party just yet. On the flip side, however, don’t be naïve. Don’t allow yourself to blindly place your trust in men and women who are sinners like you. Be prepared to cast your vote for a qualified and honorable third party candidate or to write someone in for POTUS. There are some ways forward if the Republican Party escapes its conservative moorings, and, if need be, I’ll detail one of those ways in a future article. Finally, rest assured in the full knowledge that God is in control, and we are free to act with integrity, justice, and righteousness. Even if our human efforts come to naught, we will not fail if we seek to honor God through our political activity and our voting.