After several months spent not resisting Donald Trump’s candidacy in any meaningful way, the Republican Party establishment has finally decided that it’s time to stop not fighting Trump and time to start treating their apricot-hued billionaire frontrunner as their likely 2016 nominee. That’s the gist of a big Washington Post story today quoting several (safely anonymous) top-level Republican officials describing their general sense that Trump’s “aura of inevitability” and commanding lead in both primary votes and delegates can no longer plausibly be written off as a fluke. Trump is the choice of Republican voters, and Republican politicians are learning to adapt to their terrifying new reality.
What’s most amusing about the Post story is that the reason these Republican powerbrokers offer for why they’re ready to just accept Trump is some variety of fatigue. “There is an acceptance, a resignation or whatever, that Trump is going to be the nominee,” one former state party chair told the paper. “People just want this to be over with – and we need a nominee.” That’s funny because, for the most part, the reaction to Trump’s rise from the party establishment has generally been some form of acceptance or resignation or inaction. Anti-Trump movements sprang up, but the party’s financial backers did nothing to support them. Trump would pop off with an insane or offensive remark, and Republicans on Capitol Hill would shrug it off and insist that they’d back the party’s nominee, whoever it ended up being. For every strident anti-Trump voice within the party, you had two or three others who preferred strategic silence.
If the elites within the party had really wanted to battle Trump, they could have made some concerted effort to fight him. But they saw how popular he was and decided it was better to stay quiet and hedge their bets. Now that he’s inches from the finish line, they’re saying they’re exhausted from doing nothing and just want the whole thing to be done with.
Assuming Trump does secure the nomination, the next step in this process is for Republican Party elites to try and convince themselves that maybe he’s not the electoral equivalent of sepsis. Byron York at the Washington Examiner talked to a variety of (again, anonymous) Republican muckety-mucks, some of whom are pitching the case that they’ve come to terms with Trump because they believe (for very bad reasons) that he might actually win somehow:
They know that dozens of polls have shown Clinton trouncing Trump, often by double digits. But they were struck by a recent George Washington University Battleground Poll that showed Clinton winning by just 3 points. It's just one poll, but for some it confirmed the idea that there might be a different dynamic at work in the race once Trump becomes the nominee and the contest is simply Donald vs. Hillary. The fight will become more even.
"Trump does bring a little magic to this in that he could shuffle the traditional battleground map," one former presidential campaign manager told me. "I haven't seen any data on that, but I'm just getting a feeling that he's going to put a couple of Midwestern states in play."
This is the same case that the Trump campaign is pitching to the party elites – that he can win swing states and even deep-blue Democratic states because Trump has a special “magic” that overwhelms data and negates his horrible poll numbers. What’s amazing is that some people actually seem to be buying it, even with the memory of what happened to Mitt Romney still fresh in our collective memory. As you probably recall, enthusiasm for the 2012 Romney campaign was kept afloat by Republicans and conservatives who decided that only certain polls mattered – the minority of polls showing Romney tied or narrowly ahead of Obama. When the returns came in and Romney got blown out, it was a violent shock to so many Republicans because they’d deliberately chosen to inhabit an alternate reality in which their candidate was a virtual lock for the presidency.
Now they’re slipping back into those bad habits. They’re looking at cherry-picked polls and going on gut feelings to manufacture reasons why a candidate who is a threat to lose nine out every ten Hispanic voters actually stands a chance of winning the presidency.