Published in The Moderate Voice on August 3, 2016
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Why are Republicans crossing the road? To get to the other side.
You’ve got to hand it to Donald Trump – he knows how to get a convention bounce. The problem is it went – and continues to go, to Hillary Clinton. Trump’s self-inflicted wounds and horrible joke of a campaign have made his viability as a candidate nearly non-existent. This is increasing the odds that he won’t just lose in November, but lose big. Beyond his faithful supporters, Trump’s credibility was always problematic but has plummeted to such an extent that the value of the Republican standard bearer’s campaign stationary is lower than a degree from Trump University. But will Donald Trump even be in the race come November?
To call Trump’s problems faux-pas would be vastly insulting to the term itself. Someone called the craziness of this year “unbelievably unbelievable” and that nails it. The continuous Ghazal Khan references and condescension of the Gold Star Hero’s parents that continue nearly a week after Mr. Khan’s address at the Democratic National Convention is the most prominent. But that hardly stands alone. Trump tried to convince the American people of his foreign policy
bona fides by telling George Stephanopoulos he didn’t think Vladimir Putin would invade the Ukraine – but the kicker is he’s already done it. He’s picked fights with a who’s who of Washington D.C. Republican echelon, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, Arizona Senator John McCain and New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, whose support he need both to win the White House and, if elected, to govern. He told a mother at one of his rallies to remove her screaming baby and spoke of an “easy” way to win a Purple Heart. All in less than a week. That’s a pretty good week’s work.
In short, his campaign has been beyond a bad action-adventure movie (more like science-fiction) and his own advisers have recognized it. The mood in his ranks has been described as morose, angry and even suicidal (the latter is of course hyperbole but might not be far-fetched if Mr. Trump actually goes off the cliff from which he now hangs). But difficult as it must be to operate effectively under such adverse circumstances, their own acuity may be at least one hamburger short of a picnic basket as well. Yesterday, a spokesperson blamed Obama and Hillary Clinton for the death of Khan, even though Obama was sitting in Springfield, Illinois as a State Senator in 2004 and Clinton was still the junior Senator from New York.
In the interest of fair disclosure, I’ve never been a Trump supporter so I’m not the one who needs to be persuaded to come back but, it’s increasingly obvious that rank and file Republicans feel the same way. At least some prominent Republicans – notably Meg Whitman who was the California GOP’s standard bearer for Governor as recently as six years ago, has announced signaled her distaste for Trump by announcing plans to support Clinton and accompanying that with a donation. So that got me to thinking. If Donald Trump saw that he was in danger of losing, would he abandon his bid for the Presidency?
To answer that question requires a hard introspection? Donald Trump has been called a narcissist. Not only does he not like to lose, but he constantly boasts about his vote-getting abilities (having beaten 16 Republicans to win the nomination, etc). But he has hedged on whether, if elected, he’d actually want to serve which, coupled with the campaign he’s running, makes folks wonder how much he really wants the job anyway.
Trump wouldn’t step down simply because Republican leaders ask him to. After all, some were openly critical of his nomination and he could, rightfully claim that he beat them. Trump’s saving grace might be that he raised a plethora of issues that are now front-and-center and that he no longer wants to be a distraction to their implementation – however unlikely. In that vein, he could just say a Hillary Clinton win would be bad. He could take a page from the book of then Minnesota Democratic Senator Mark Dayton who, after a series of bizarre moves, abandoned his quest for re-election in 2006. His logic: “Everything I’ve worked for, and everything I believe in, depends upon this Senate seat remaining in the Democratic caucus in 2007. I do not believe that I am the best candidate to lead the DFL Party to victory next year.” We all know Trump would never admit he was going to lose but in this case, he’d be able to save face if he cared about his party. But that’s the big “if.”
Were Trump to bow out, his replacement would be picked by the Republican National Committee. With so little time, they would want a candidate with name recognition. Ryan would be the first to come to mind but it’s unclear whether he’d want it (though he eventually shed his Hamlet routine to accept the Speakership). Mitt Romney and John Kasich would be prominently mentioned as well. Meanwhile, Ted Cruz as the runner-up would probably find that if only he didn’t go one step too far let his ego guide him by his “conscience speech,” he could’ve been in contention though with leaders so resistant to him before, it’s hard to see him receiving serious consideration. Rubio might be appealing but given his desultory performance and the fact that his selection would almost certainly cost Republicans a Senate seat they’re not guaranteed to hold anyway, his odds are low.
Incidentally, the departure of a top of the ticket candidate in no way impacts his number two selection. Mike Pence remains the vice-presidential nominee unless and until he decides otherwise. The new Republican nominee might privately make noise about installing his own running-mate but Pence is well-liked by the evangelical community and other conservatives. Because they will likely swallow hard and accept a more establishment friendly nominee, Pence will be their insurance.
Will Trump really bow out? Few know what goes on in his mind for sure but for those who think Trump can withstand these problems just by plowing ahead and continuing to shoot from the hip while publicly insisting everything is hunky-dory, I have a degree at Trump University to sell you. And for those who believe his rhetoric that things are just fine, I have a Melania Trump speech writer I can lend you.