David Koch and Sheldon Adelson (AP/Paul Vernon/Dennis Van Tine)

These guys let Trump happen: Why you can blame the cowardly GOP establishment for The Donald's rise

The party establishment is finally admitting that the Donald is no fluke. Their solution? Run and hide


Elias Isquith
February 24, 2016 10:35PM (UTC)

Let’s imagine that you were organizing an outdoor event — a charity softball game, for example — and you already had the date and location set in stone. And let’s say that you paid upfront. Regardless of the circumstances, neither the time nor the place can be altered. You’re locked in.

Let’s pretend now that it’s Monday morning, and the game is supposed to happen on Friday afternoon. You check the weather forecast and see, to your horror, that it might rain. That would be a disaster. But since you’ve spent your money to rent the field on Friday already, you don’t want to make a separate arrangement unless you absolutely must. So you hold tight and figure you’ll get lucky.

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Fast-forward to Thursday, and the signs are still not so good. In fact, they’re worse than ever: the weatherwoman says there’s an 80 percent chance of a Friday thunderstorm, and when you look out your window, you see ominously dark thunderclouds starting to congregate right above the softball field you rented out already. But because renting out another field on such short notice is extra pricey, you still do nothing.

You have no idea what you’ll do if it rains on Friday. You just sit there, neurotically refreshing weather.com, hoping everything will work out. Then Friday comes and, wouldn’t you know it, the rain starts falling. It’s cats and dogs out there. And because you didn’t come up with a Plan B, the game is canceled. So you not only failed at organizing, but you got nothing for your money — and everyone is mad at you now, too.

Well, thanks to Donald Trump’s landslide victory in Tuesday’s Nevada caucuses, that’s basically the position in which Republican Party leaders find themselves today. For months, they watched Donald Trump become the frontrunner in their presidential primary; and for months, they ignored the signs that he wouldn’t go away on his own. But because that reality was worse than the one they thought they lived in, they denied it. And now betting markets say his chances of winning are above than 60 percent.

That’s not the only reason Trump is flourishing, obviously. A phenomenon like the Trump campaign — which may be the political equivalent of a “black swan” event — never has one single and solitary explanation. It’s usually multi-causal, and it usually was a long time in the making. Still, Donald Trump has been running for president in earnest for nearly a year. And he’s been the story of the campaign throughout. No GOP big shot should be allowed to act shocked — shocked! — with a straight face.

As terribly as the Republican Party “establishment” has performed already, though, it looks like they may about to get even worse. Because the only thing more contemptible than allowing your repressed fears to put you in a state of denial is continuing to do nothing while embracing that fear, straight-up. And according to a report from Politico’s Ken Vogel and Isaac Arnsdorf that appears to be the GOP elite’s next step.

Vogel and Arnsdorf write:

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As Donald Trump picks up momentum, the chances of a well-funded assault to block him from the Republican presidential nomination are dramatically dwindling, according to interviews with about a dozen donors and operatives who are appalled by the billionaire real estate showman's campaign.

The party’s elite donor class has mostly closed its checkbooks to groups dedicated to stopping Trump, while the outfits that have built massive reserves are increasingly deciding to forgo anti-Trump campaigns, despite widespread fears that he is making a mockery of conservatism and could undermine Republicans up and down the ballot.

The deepest-pocketed operation on the right, the network helmed by the billionaires Charles and David Koch, had seriously debated launching an aggressive assault on Trump, but sources familiar with the network's planning tell POLITICO that’s now highly unlikely. And the Karl Rove-conceived Crossroads outfits also are sitting out the party’s bitter primary, instead spending their cash attacking Democrats.

And how do these would-be stewards of the American empire justify sitting on their hands? Well, they don’t. Not really. According to Politico, they prefer to admit that they’re driven not by a sense of party loyalty, or because they don’t think a nominee Trump will be really be so bad. No, that’s not the reason. The reason, they say, is that they don’t want to become the next target of Trump’s bullying:

GOP strategist Liz Mair, whose anti-Trump Make America Awesome super PAC has raised all of $10,000 since it was created in December, said major donors are shying away from her group partly because they are scared of incurring Trump’s wrath. He has already threatened legal action against conservative groups that have advertised against him, including the Club for Growth (which, he alleged in a Tuesday tweet "came to my office seeking $1 million dollars. I told them no and now they are doing negative ads), and has called out conservative billionaires who he unsuccessfully courted (including the Koch brothers, Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and New York hedge fund titan Paul Singer).

“We would totally donate to you if we could do it anonymously; we’re worried about Trump taking reprisals against us for donating to this,” Mair said, parroting reactions she’s heard from donors. “Suffice to say, there are a lot of people out there who want to stop Trump and are willing to donate to do it,” she said. “They’re just the rank and file of the base, not the establishment donors.”

In this light, the softball game metaphor I used at the beginning of this piece might actually be too kind to the Republican establishment. In that scenario, the problem was a mix of denial and wishful thinking. Those are hardly the qualities you want to see from leadership; but it’s still better than being an absolute wuss.


Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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