The new GOP plot against Donald Trump: The establishment is scheming to blacklist Trump's staffers — it will likely blow up in their faces

The strategy will only add to Trump's populist appeal, which will raise the stakes for the RNC at the convvention

Published April 20, 2016 5:46PM (EDT)

 Donald Trump (AP/Julie Jacobson)
Donald Trump (AP/Julie Jacobson)

The Republican establishment is running out of options. After Donald Trump's overwhelming victory in New York, where he appears to have won nearly every possible delegate, his chances of reaching 1,237 delegates before the convention are far greater. It's still an uphill climb for the Donald, but so long as Cruz and Kasich are battling it out for the anti-Trump vote, he's well-positioned.

Mainstream Republicans are increasingly desperate to undercut Trump. Clearly, they can't do it at the voting booth, and every milquetoast candidate they've put before Trump has crumbled. Convention plans are being floated, all of which involve parliamentary tricks designed to open up the nomination process to candidates who didn't run for president. But that's a risky strategy. Defying the will of the voters carries a high price, namely their indifference in November.

The latest half-baked attempt to slow Trump's momentum is to blacklist potential staffers. Politico reported this week that advisers are being warned about the consequences of going “Trumptard,” as one GOP operative put it. “According to interviews with more than a dozen operatives, including several who oppose Trump, some who support him and the leaders of some prominent DC political shops,” Politico reports, “some of those who go to work for Trump face an implicit, and occasionally overt threat: Help Trump, and you'll never work in this town again.”

All of this is occurring against the backdrop of Trump's efforts to reshuffle his campaign team. In the last few weeks, Trump has demoted his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and handed total control over to Paul Manafort and Rick Wiley, two longtime Republican operatives. The moves are part of Trump's plan to “professionalize” his campaign.

Although he landed Manafort and Riley (neither of whom have had any recent success), sources close to the campaign told Politico that the blacklisting threat “has complicated Trump's efforts in recent weeks to hire top-tier operatives.” Many top-level advisers have declined Trump's entreaties, fearing blowback both in the political sphere and in the world of corporate consulting.

The blacklisting talk will surely make things difficult for Trump, but it won't slow his campaign down. Indeed, like almost everything the establishment has tried so far, this confirms the narrative on which his entire campaign is based – that the system is rigged, that the establishment isn't responsive to the voters, that the politicians and the lobbyists and the consultants are in cahoots, and so on. If anything, this will only add to Trump's populist appeal, which in turn raises the stakes for the RNC at the convention.

The blacklist does, however, raise concerns about Trump's ability to hire smart professionals when and if he becomes president. Given his breathtaking ignorance, it's unusually important that Trump find people who understand the world to help him manage it. Trump himself has said one of his goals is to fire stupid people and bring in smart ones to replace them. If by smart he means people with experience in and knowledge of politics, he might have a hard time filling his administration with competent people.

On the other hand, as Politico points out, “If Trump were to win the White House, he would control that consulting cash flow for at least four years and operatives who signed on early would have the inside track to become the new elite in a reordered GOP consulting class.” If he becomes the nominee, however, and loses badly in the general election, as he almost certainly would, there would be “serious recriminations for those seen as facilitating his rise,” particularly if his candidacy creates a cavalcade of down-ballot losses for Republicans.

By Sean Illing

Sean Illing is a USAF veteran who previously taught philosophy and politics at Loyola and LSU. He is currently Salon's politics writer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Read his blog here. Email at

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