It really wasn’t my intention to write about this election very much, as I would rather try to shape post-Trump conservatism, but there is an occasion here for a lesson to be taught.
Late last week we began hearing the rumbles about a letter to the RNC, signed by a number of concerned party members, urging them to stop financially supporting the flailing Trump campaign and concentrate their declining finances on saving the House and Senate from a Democratic takeover. The latter was already a strong possibility thanks to the sheer number of Republican seats in play – the TEA Party wave election of 2010 comes home to roost this year in the Senate. Among those signing are onetime Maryland YR chair Brian Griffiths and my “partner in crime” Heather Olsen, who resigned earlier this summer as county chair in Prince George’s County because she, too, could not support Donald Trump as the GOP nominee.
While I have had my differences with Griffiths over the years, it’s more rare that I disagree with my friend Heather. Yet I believe there are two good arguments for keeping Trump in the GOP financial loop, despite their (likely correct) contention that it’s “throwing good money after bad.”
First of all, those who climbed aboard the Trump Train early on were completely and utterly convinced that he would absolutely steamroller Hillary Clinton just as he has built up his business empire. But now that the polls being reported on a near-daily basis continue to find Trump not only losing nationally but putting several “safe” GOP states in play, these backers not only claim the polls are “fake” but also point to other (non-scientific) polls showing Trump has a “YUGE” lead and analysis saying he’ll win in a “landslide.” So apparently this money is going to a good cause, right? These militant Trumpkins are going to be covered regardless – either he wins and then the purge of the #NeverTrump group from the GOP begins, or he loses because he said early on “I’m afraid the election going to be rigged.”
So if you withhold the GOP money from Donald Trump, it’s just going to be another thing to blame his loss on. “We had these huge rallies and we knew we had this election in the bag,” they will wail, “but Reince Priebus and the GOP establishment wouldn’t give us any support – they must have been in cahoots with Hillary.” Don’t you dare give them that excuse.
As for the second reason, the Republican Party simply needs to be taught a lesson on its own and sometimes the only way to get the point across is letting them utterly fail. They had the chance, several times, to do something to avoid this situation – closed primaries, penalties for skipping debates and insistence on participation to the end, or allowing convention delegates to vote their conscience, as examples – but they did none of these things, allowing a candidate with far less than 50% of the Republican vote to skate off with the nomination. (This doesn’t count the policy failures of Republicans in Congress.) As I have said before: you break it, you bought it. Give Trump the money he’s due, and when the election is lost all of those involved will hopefully resign in disgrace for what they have done to a great party and a great country.
So when I get my appeals for donations to the national Republican party (and even the state version) I’m not giving them a dime. This is actually nothing new for me, since I would rather give to the individual candidate I believe in than a party organization that will be as likely to support a candidate edging left of center as it would a conservative (and perhaps more.) And too often they place their thumb on the scale in a primary even though it’s against their policy to do so. (Heather surely recalls Rule 11 being used for Maryland in 2010.)
It looks more and more likely that a bitterly divided Republican Party will endure electoral disaster unseen in a decade this November. (Maybe it’s years ending in 6, since the last several of those have been horrible for national Republicans – they lost all of Congress in 2006, Bob Dole lost in 1996, they lost the Senate in 1986, and Gerald Ford was defeated in 1976. 1966 was the last successful one.) But just as the Democrats are now split between the radical progressives that backed Bernie Sanders and the establishment which went for Clinton, the GOP is rent asunder by the schism between conservatism and the alt-right populism best expressed by Donald Trump (and, to a certain extent prior to that, Sarah Palin.)
Once we get to 2017, the question will be that of who blinks first. After the new Congress and administration is sworn in, it will be time for the GOP to get together and select new leadership. If things go as expected in November, the January RNC meeting will be must-see TV for political junkies as the fate of the resistance is determined.
But if the right people are placed in charge, the few million dollars wasted on Trump at the expense of Congress will be a memory because many may be willing to open their wallets again. In that respect, perhaps the Trump candidacy will be the catharsis the GOP needed to begin on a path to a post-Trump conservatism. We can only hope.