The GOP's anti-Trump hysteria has its limits: Will they really unify around Cruz to stop Donald-ageddon?

Ted Cruz seems like the only man who could stop Trump. But everybody despises Ted Cruz. What happens now?

By Heather Digby Parton


Published March 3, 2016 1:01PM (EST)

 Ted Cruz and Donald Trump (Reuters/Tami Chappell/Chris Keane/Photo montage by Salon)
Ted Cruz and Donald Trump (Reuters/Tami Chappell/Chris Keane/Photo montage by Salon)

As of this morning, this is the state of play in the Republican campaign for president:

One might surmise from that total that the race for the Republican presidential nomination is now a race between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Their total was separated by only 23 delegates as compared to the 142 points that separates Trump from Marco Rubio. Trump has won ten contests. Ted Cruz has won four. Rubio has won one. Kasich and Carson are still goose eggs. (The press is reporting that people are starting to lean on the former and it appears Carson has either seen the light or someone's made him an offer he can't refuse.)

The problem with all of this for the establishment is that they loathe both Trump and Cruz, the first and second choices of their voters. This should tell them something but it doesn't yet seem to have penetrated: Their voters don't care what they think. Indeed, their voters are basically saying that if the establishment is for it, they're against it.

Still, the establishment denies this reality, belatedly having recognized that Trump is a real threat, they are devising plans to thwart their two top candidates to install someone they see as both electable and palatable. There are massive ad campaigns in the works with the intention of "informing" Trump voters that their man is a hypocrite:

Those people simply don't understand Trump's appeal. He openly explains these apostasies away by saying that he is a businessman who had to play all sides because that's the cost of doing business. He doesn't hide it and his voters don't mind it. They think he's a smart guy who wins by any means necessary. After all, he's a billionaire! A winner.

Trump voters aren't hostile to wealthy businessmen in general. In fact, his profession is very high on the list of the things they like best about him. They believe that the honest hardworking plutocrats are just doing what they need to do to make a buck and if we could get the government to put America first they'd be able to keep jobs here and everything would be fine.

Matt Yglesias laid out the Trump agenda this way:

"On trade, he wants to revise existing deals and replace them with ones that the United States will "win."

On foreign policy, he is suspicious of idealistic ventures but willing to be maximally brutal and maximally avaricious when force does need to be used.

On drug prices, he wants the US government to stop acting like the biggest sucker in the world by letting itself get ripped off by rootless multinational firms.

On immigration, what really needs to be said.

Trump's speeches these days also loudly and proudly invoke support for veterans and law enforcement, identifying his movement with the agents of the state.

More subtly, Trump breaks with conservative orthodoxy by opposing cuts to Social Security and Medicare, positions that research by Donald Kinder and Cindy Kam find to be associated with white ethnocentric sentiment."

Trump and his followers are authoritarian nationalists and they could not care less that he's been all over the map on other issues. What matters to them is that he wants America -- and by extension them -- to dominate. Until someone can find a way to make these people doubt his sincerity or competence in accomplishing that goal, his people will not abandon him.

According to Nate Cohn in the New York Times, the numbers show that it's not too late to stop him if the anti-Trump forces could get their act together. But they are running out of time:

He holds only 33 percent of the popular vote in the returns counted so far; 35 percent if you exclude Ted Cruz’s home state, Texas. It’s a low enough number to suggest he could still lose the nomination if the field ever narrowed to a one-on-one race[...]

By March 15, nearly 60 percent of all the delegates to the Republican nomination will have been awarded. Five large states will cast ballots, and several, including Florida and Ohio, are winner-take-all states. Illinois and Missouri award their delegates in a way that will most likely assure a lopsided margin for the victor.

If Mr. Trump isn’t defeated on that date, he will be in a strong position to amass a majority of delegates by the end of the primary season. If he had a big day on March 15 and then won by even a little afterward, say by a margin as small as three percentage points, he would probably have enough delegates to avoid a contested convention.

Yesterday, Fox officially gave up on Marco.  Roger Ailes reportedly said, "we're finished with Rubio. We can't do the Rubio thing anymore."  Sean Hannity knows how to follow orders and he immediately went ballistic on Rubio on his radio show yesterday:

What I suspect has happened is that Marco Rubio has sat in a room with a lot of establishment types. I guarantee you he has been promised millions and millions and millions of dollars for his campaign, I suspect deeply that this dramatic change -- this is not a subtle change that, you know -- listening to him go on and on about the con artist, the fraud, the scam artist. "He refuses to repudiate the KKK." "Hire illegal immigrants." Misspelled words. I suspect that this has all been coached. I suspect that this is a strategy that has been put together by all of these people that are angry really at you because they don't like the way you, the American people, are voting.

There's no mystery about where the Fox empire is heading. Rupert Murdoch himself tweeted,  "As predicted, Trump reaching out to make peace with Republican 'establishment'. If he becomes inevitable party would be mad not to unify."

It's unknown what Trump has done to "reach out" but if Murdoch's referring to his bizarre victory "press conference" on Super Tuesday, it's probably wishful thinking. Nonetheless, it's clear that Fox is reaching out to him. They seem to be gluttons for punishment. Trump has been playing them for fools for months.

But not everyone has accepted the inevitability of Trump. Some members of the GOP establishment are still raging at the dying of the Republican Party and are even willing to entertain the unthinkable. Senator Lindsay Graham who recently joined the ranks of potty mouthed public officials when he described his party as "batshit crazy" went on CBS yesterday, swallowed hard and said:

He's not my favorite but we may be in a position where we have to rally around Ted Cruz to stop Donald Trump.

It's a testament to just how loathsome his fellow elected Republicans find Cruz that this is the first, perhaps the only, time anyone has mentioned this as a possibility.  (Well Cruz himself did, unctuously suggesting that all of his rivals  "prayerfully consider" dropping out of the race. It's not hard to see why fellow Senators think he's so repellent.)

Today Mitt Romney is scheduled to give a speech about the Republican race and is expected to say that Republicans should vote for either Rubio or Cruz. I think it's fair to say that such an entreaty coming from him will likely have the effect of clinching the nomination for Donald Trump.  It's that kind of campaign.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Donald Trump Elections 2016 Gop Primary Ted Cruz