Ultimately, this post is about Reince Priebus, the theatrically incompetent chairman of the Republican National Committee, and his latest attempt to persuade the GOP establishment that he’s not as impotent and helpless as Donald Trump makes him look.
But before we get to that, I want to flag this profoundly unsettling article from Sasha Abramsky in the Nation, just so we can keep in mind the character of the political movement that Priebus is trying — and failing — to co-opt. Abramsky is reporting from Nevada, on the day of the caucuses that Trump would go on to win in an absolute rout.
Here are some of the people he encountered, the folks itching to make America great again:
Meet Gene A., retired supervisor at a sugar factory. (Gene was quite comfortable advocating mass murder, but in true coward’s form he didn’t want his last name used, in case his words could be traced back to him.)
What did Gene think about Trump’s calls to “temporarily” bar Muslims from entering the country?
“They’d be happier in their own country where they can pray the way they want. They’re not here in America to do any good. They’re here to do evil.”
Would he expel all Muslims from America?
“Absolutely. You can’t tell the good from the bad, so you have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I’d give ’em a choice—a trench on one side or a ticket out of here.”
Are you talking about execution?
“Absolutely. That’s what they do to us in their countries. I’d give ’em a choice: Get out of here or else.”
At his words, a lady sitting nearby gave a thumb’s up, and murmured her agreement.
There’s plenty more where that came from. Incidentally, a recent New York Times piece reported that “[n]early 20 percent of Mr. Trump’s voters disagreed with Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in the Southern states during the Civil War.” Some 70 percent of South Carolinian Trump voters want to bring back the Confederate battle flag; 38 percent wished the nascent slave empire had won.
Anyway, these are the folks that the Republican Party has spent the last 50 years courting. These are the folks who’ve decided that they’re sick of the GOP’s bait and switch; that they’re sick of being promised a counterrevolution and getting plutocracy instead. These are the people that are drawn to Trump, movement conservative orthodoxy be damned.
And now that Trump’s winning the nomination is looking extremely likely, if not yet quite certain, this is how Priebus, according to Politico’s Daniel Strauss, plans to rein the Donald and his devotees in:
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus has begun stating in private meetings that the party has sway over its at times unwelcome front-runner because it has tools Trump will need to use to win a general election — voter data and field, digital and media operations that a nominee typically inherits from the party infrastructure.
Dangling access to these resources, Priebus thinks he can help steer Trump toward partywide policy goals and away from the inflammatory rhetoric that Republican officials see as divisive and dangerous, especially outside of the primary, according to two Republican sources who have spoken with the RNC chairman.
The plan, in other words, is to persuade the man who ran roughshod over the entire party establishment to do what that very same establishment tells him is best. The idea, presumably, is that the candidate who won by flamboyantly breaking all of the unwritten rules will suddenly listen to those he vanquished. Why? Because of … voter data. And field operations. And so he doesn’t sound “inflammatory” or “divisive.”
Calling this one of the stupidest, most pathetic, most denial-ridden and ridiculous strategies in the history of high-stakes American politics may be understating the case.
But that’s the Republican Party right now: an ungainly and unsustainable amalgam, in which a decadent and corrupt party aristocracy sits uneasily on top of a roiling mass of ethno-nationalism, resentment, and increasingly strident bigotry. This is the Frankenstein’s monster Priebus and those like him want to ride to the White House. They should all be ashamed.