Two years ago I foresaw the Republican Party’s existence being jeopardized by a civil war between grassroots activists and the party establishment.
What I didn’t expect was how it exactly would play out.
With Jeb Bush looking to ensconce the family political dynasty in the White House a third time and recalling how the Republican Party’s powers that be all but fixed the nomination for Mitt Romney in 2012, I figured that the scion of the 41st president and the brother of the 43rd would exploit a divided conservative field and favoritism by the party establishment to lock up the nomination through a series of front-loaded primaries with a significant rival not emerging until it was too late.
Feeling duped, legions of conservative activists would walk out on the party and with the Bush brand still retaining residual stink from 2008, Jeb would lose in a landslide to Hillary Clinton. From there an ugly four-year war would be waged for the soul of what was left of the GOP, assuming it did not go the way of Canada’s Progressive Conservatives.
I clearly overestimated Jeb’s political skill and the conservative activists’ willingness to buck the establishment en masse.
Instead a nine-figure Jeb Bush operation suffered John Connally-sized electoral humiliations in Iowa (which saved his brother in 2000), New Hampshire (which saved his father in 1988), and South Carolina, the ole establishment firewall.
And ironically the man who benefited from the primary frontloading machinations designed to give artificial delegate lifts to Jeb was none other than Donald Trump.
After eight years of taunting from the Democratic White House and derision by a haughty Republican country club, conservatives and those who did not previously participate or even self-identify as Republicans overturned a party that has been dominated by decades of establishment candidates and pols, with the exception of the Goldwater and Reagan nominations.
Trump cut like a buzz saw through a crowded field, sweeping the south, save Texas, and the northeast, save Maine.
And just like that, the Party of Bush was no more.
La famille Bush went through withdrawals having controlled the Republican Party directly or indirectly for two generations and declared war on Trump.
In lieu of a counter offensive, they opted for a Jim Jones play.
Some have consumed the Kool-Aid, including Mitt Romney, following a family tradition as his father was one of the party’s most prominent figures to have the GOP’s “uncomfortable” nominee in 1964.
A host of former GOP congressmen have signed a letter endorsing Hillary Clinton over Trump, though some of those people don’t have much credibility. Take Jim Leach. Please.
The former Iowa congressman is one of thirty Republican Capitol Hill retirees to declare for the Democratic nominee. But here’s the thing: Leach did the same thing in 2008 for Barack Obama against John McCain.
That’s not genuine offense over ideology; that’s opportunism. So why should any Republican voter take this guy seriously?
And then there’s the “half pregnant” Republican leaders like Speaker Paul Ryan, McCain, and others who have played endorsement hokey pokey with Trump, backing the billionaire on sunny days while running for cover once the storms rolled in.
As Ryan became a national figure thanks to Romney, one might expect him to protect the interests of his political sponsor. However, Ryan cannot be blamed for not wanting to shoulder Trump’s personal baggage. That’s not fair to him, the party agenda, or the congressional candidates.
There was a better, less melodramatic way Ryan could have handled things without all but declaring a civil war within the Republican Party. Unfortunately, Ryan has demonstrated a habit of being buffaloed by the Beltway press corps, which only encourages them more.
There’s going to be a Day of Reckoning for the Republican Party come November 9th.
If Trump somehow pulls off an upset, a lot of folks who took a walk on the party will be told to keep on walking. They weren’t there to help achieve the victory thus they will not enjoy the spoils, unlike in past years where moderates claimed prime committee chairmanships off of conservative electoral victories.
But things won’t be much better for them if Trump loses.
While the liquor might flow at the Bush-Romney “We Told You So” Party, the 2% that backed Jeb won’t simply walk back into control. They crashed and burned twice on their own their failures and insincerity are in no small part contributed to the rise of Trump.
And thanks to their recalcitrance, Trump has a ready made excuse for his defeat.
It was the establishment stupid.
So the more they gloat, the worse they will look.
While all the rage and wildly celebrated in the media, the #NeverTrump bloc is numerically a small group. And like those who plunged their knives into Caesar Goldwater in 1964, their schadenfreude will come at a price.
George Romney, Nelson Rockefeller, and Bill Scranton never won the party’s presidential nomination though all three tried mightily. The party never forgave them, rightfully so. At the end of the day, they were as much responsible for the catastrophic LBJ Administration as the Democrats.
By contrast a politically burned-out vice-president and washed up B-actor were on the losing side of the 1964 presidential election, yet Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan proved to have been on the right side of history.
Though they might not realize it, #NeverTrump faction has lost a future Republican Civil War before the first battle.