Win or lose, the damage is done: The party of Lincoln is officially the party of Trump

The GOP is perfectly fine with having an unstable, dangerous demagogue running the country

By Heather Digby Parton


Published May 23, 2016 12:00PM (EDT)

Donald Trump   (AP/Gerald Herbert)
Donald Trump (AP/Gerald Herbert)

This past weekend had some bad news and some good news for the Democrats. The bad news is the race has tightened substantially since the last of Donald Trump's  competitors dropped out and he became the presumptive nominee. The latest ABC/ Washington Post poll shows Trump in the lead with 46% to Clinton's 44%, an 11 point shift toward Trump since March. Other polls show similar movement toward the GOP nominee. The good news, however, is that among attributes people usually associate with leaders, particularly presidents, attributes like temperament, knowledge, experience, personality Clinton gets much higher marks. Unfortunately at this moment in time more Americans would prefer to have an unstable, know-nothing demagogue for president than one who they believe is more capable and qualified. I'm not sure what that says about our country but it says something important about the Republican Party.

This polling should not be overstated. Trump is getting a standard bump from winding up the primary as Republican partisans, tired from the battle, accept the outcome. Clinton is still in a hard-fought contest with Bernie Sanders who at this point is planning to contest all the way through the convention. That plan may change after the primaries are finished but in the meantime the poll results probably show a weaker front-runner than if she were alone in the race.

Moreover, there are other structural disadvantages for Trump that he is a long way from overcoming. This story in the New York Times is a particularly important one considering that it's highly unlikely that Trump has the cash to do it himself. The rank and file and the DC toadies may be coming around but one powerful constituency is balking:

Interviews and emails with more than 50 of the Republican Party’s largest donors, or their representatives, revealed a measure of contempt and distrust toward their own party’s nominee that is unheard of in modern presidential politics.

More than a dozen of the party’s most reliable individual contributors and wealthy families indicated that they would not give to or raise money for Mr. Trump. This group has contributed a combined $90 million to conservative candidates and causes in the last three federal elections, mainly to “super PACs” dedicated to electing Republican candidates.

Asked how Mr. Trump intended to win over major donors, Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, responded in one sentence. “There is tremendous support for Mr. Trump,” she said.

Here are a few quotes from some of these donors:

 “Not sure why anyone would give money to Mr. Trump since he asserts he is worth $10 billion.”

“I believe his boorish behavior throughout the campaign suggested to me that he did not have the character to be president.”

“He is too selfish, flawed and unpredictable to hold the power of the presidency.”

To be fair a number of the others who were quoted said it was because he wasn't conservative enough, which is an artful dodge in conservative circles these days. Nonetheless, it's clear these people are convinced that Trump either shouldn't or cannot win and they are keeping their money in their pockets.

He does have a few moneybags who have signed up, led by Sheldon Adelson who is one of the richest men in the world and others, like Rick Santorum's 2012 sugar daddy Foster Friess, best known for suggesting that the best birth control is a couple of aspirin --- held between a woman's knees. He's a sexist first and a social conservative second. (Trump, by contrast, is simply a sexist which is good enough for government work apparently.) But unless Adelson wants to finance the whole election  --- and he could, as of June 2015 he was worth 28 billion --- it looks as though Trump is going to have to sell a couple of golf courses or take out some major loans to pay for his campaign. Of course, he can just do it through a shell company and then go bankrupt if it doesn't work out.  That's how he usually does it, anyway.

And then there's organization and Trump just doesn't have one, particularly in comparison to Clinton and the Democrats. Politico had a story over the week-end showing that Trump had spent next to nothing on the field and fundraising operations that are required in a general election campaign while Clinton had used her primary battle to assemble a fully functional national organization. Trump notoriously eschews professional expertise and analysis, instead relying on gut instinct and careful attention to what he calls "the shows" for his intelligence. Even if his new consultants persuade him to hire all the people he needs there little evidence he will listen to them. And he's so cheap that if he is forced to use his own money it's unlikely that he'll spend what it takes to win.

Finally, there's anecdotal evidence that at least a few Republicans haven't completely abandoned their principles. And they are the kind of Republicans who can make or break a presidential campaign. This piece in the Wall Street Journal about what's going on in Ohio is devastating to Trump's hopes there:

“There’s no one in a senior- or midlevel position in the campaign in Ohio or in any of the states where we had staff who would or will be going to work for Donald Trump,” said John Weaver, Mr. Kasich’s senior strategist during his presidential campaign. “The very things that attracted them to John are the things that would keep them from working for Trump. Plus, they would be shot.”

And if they are counting on the Democrats being irreparably split, that doesn't look like it's going to work out, at least not in Ohio:

About half of the activists interviewed at the Stark County Democratic headquarters said they backed Mr. Sanders during Ohio’s primary, but each said they believe they must work to elect Mrs. Clinton.

“The difference between any Democrat and Trump is so spectacular that I had to come help,” said Tony Collins-Sibley, a 54-year-old cabinet maker from Alliance who wore a blue “Bernie 2016” T-shirt as he phoned potential Clinton volunteers. “Hillary is a boilerplate Democrat with all the traditional views.…I’ll work for her.

So, it may be that even if the race remains tight, Trump is going to have a difficult time actually running a real 50-state general election campaign. He simply doesn't have the experience or the skill and he refuses to listen to people. He thinks he can become president with rallies, phone interviews on cable news and pithy Twitter insults.  It worked for him during the primary, so perhaps you can't blame him for thinking he's a genius. Lucky is the more likely explanation.

The real question in all these polls is what it says about the Republican Party that all but a few billionaires, operatives and columnists are all falling into line behind this ridiculous Bond villain. It's one thing for the hard-core anti-Washington Tea Party types and "Celebrity Apprentice" fans to have jumped on the Trump train. This xenophobic, white nationalist strain has always existed on the right so it's not entirely surprising that a plurality of Republicans would vote for someone running on that program from time to time.  It's not even surprising that a majority would jump on the bandwagon in specific primary states and the competition fell away. These races tend to take on a life of their own sometimes. But even those who one might have considered the patriots of the GOP are falling under his spell.

Up until now the #NeverTrump faction was a boisterous lot of sane Republicans led by pundits and politicians with enough common sense to understand that this authoritarian demagogue was unfit for the presidency in every possible way.  They understood that to wage an election fight with a program of torture, mass deportation, religious bans, militant nationalism, abrogation of treaties, betrayal of alliances was unAmerican. The fact that this was being proposed by a man who has no understanding of the constitutional order and American values was a danger to their party and worse, to the country and the world. They were willing to lose the election rather than associate their party with this madness.

Oh well. Never mind. There may be a few left, like Jonah Goldberg of the National Review who says he'll only vote for Trump if his vote is the one that would flip it to Clinton. There are Mitt Romney and Eric Erickson and a handful of others who are still out there tilting at Trump Tower. But mostly what we are seeing is a spectacle of servile sycophancy that's embarrassing to all concerned. From alleged tough guy Chris Christie's majordomo act to former sainted doctor Ben Carson trailing after Trump like a Justin Bieber groupie, one GOP leader after another is prostrating himself at the Donald's undoubtedly huge feet. Even Lindsay Graham, who has been one of Trump's most vociferous Republican critics, once calling him  "race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot", is reportedly telling donors on the qt that they need to step up for him.

But no one has thrown away what left of his pride that the former governor of Texas, Rick Perry, who gave a stirring speech last fall in which he declared that Trump was "a cancer on conservatism," and a toxic "barking carnival act" that will "lead the Republican party to perdition." It was Perry's finest moment. Now he's groveling like a dog for Trump's attention, throwing himself into the VP pool saying, "I will be open to any way I can help. I’m not going to say no" if asked. He said Trump's "not a perfect man, but what I do believe is that he loves this country and that he will surround himself with capable, experienced people and that he will listen to them.” Apparently, he's also found a cure for cancer.

At this point, it doesn't matter if Trump wins or loses the election as far as the future of the GOP is concerned. Most of the leadership and the voters are on board  — they own him and he owns them. The party of Lincoln is now officially the party of ... Donald Trump.

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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