The Establishment GOP and Dreams of a Trump-less Universe

It appears as if the rest of the world has accepted the Donald Trump campaign’s legitimacy. On August 19th, Rachel Maddow devoted the balance of her time to attacking the Republican candidate that his own party is reluctant to embrace. The idea of the Republican Party refusing to acknowledge basic math you can do on a napkin is simultaneously astounding and not very surprising. Trump is winning and winning big, but he is far from a card-carrying Republican. For now the GOP will attempt to balance fairness with contempt and buy time. They will attempt to “wait him out”.

The Republican field for the 2016 nomination is impressive. The exceptional nature of the larger than normal group is extraordinary, but not for the reasons died in the wool Republicans might like. While there are great resume to choose from, there are also diverse backgrounds. The typical field of politicians has never been augmented by a real estate magnate, a former Fortune 5 CEO, and a world renowned neurosurgeon. Once more, the field holds seven former or sitting governors. (Governors, of course, have tended to fair far better in Presidential runs than any other political post in recent history.) Finally, the field illustrates an unprecedented fragmentation in the GOP. There is more than simply Tea Party people and establishment people. Some candidates leave many pundits and analysts scratching their heads trying to decide “what are you”?

The dynamics of the nomination process and candidate pool are far from simple today, but it is easy to corral the folks with Presidential aspirations into a few groups.

Donald Trump: Introducing anyone with a TV to the newest political, 800 lb. gorilla in the room is a waste of time. Anyone close to the age of 40 knew about him before this year, all others have found out enough in the last two months. He is richer than Romney and far more vocal. This scares those who are concerned about electability and, more importantly, those who are concerned about control. Nobody is going to buy the Donald. This might not scare people within the party apparatus, but it surely scares interest groups and fundraisers. His boisterous and flippant attitude towards the political operative/adviser class endangers the livelihoods of many. It is an affront to the “gotta get the moderate” theme that dominated both the McCain and Romney campaigns. Yet, this as is characteristic of recent Republican Presidential campaigns, misses the mark. Many will vote for Trump simply because what he is not. Similar to the design of Pop-Eleches’ protest vote, this could actually attract not only moderates but disappointed Obama voters. Some worried about Trump being light on policy, but with a double digit lead, he’s heavy enough for now.

JEB: The inherent weakness of Governor Jeb Bush as a candidate is obvious from a variety of angles. First, he’s a Bush. While he is not his brother or his father, to expect him to be far removed from either is a stretch for most people. This is a big hurdle. Many conservatives swore JEB off before he was even in the race. He is seen as the stereotypical post-Reagan, Republican politician. Along with some others, he is viewed as part of the problem. These are the same wings of the party that vilify Speaker [mc_name name=’Rep. John Boehner (R-OH)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’B000589′ ] and Senate Majority Leader [mc_name name=’Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000355′ ] for their failure to keep the Obama Administration in check and assert more conservative priorities. Second, his record in Florida is an issue with many conservatives. His very vocal views on immigration and Common Core are problematic. Changing them now will simply compound the problem. The flip-flop rhetoric almost writes itself. Third, many are saying JEB is “flat”. He’s never really gotten voters excited. The main comment about JEB before the election season started was that he was amiable. His chief selling point is that he doesn’t make that many people too mad. This plays into the standing GOP establishment strategy of winning moderates. Finally, much like Hillary, JEB will try to hunker down and simply survive until the convention. There, he has good chance.

The Outsiders: Dr. Ben Carson & former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina are the minor members of this group, which also include the Donald. This pair adds flavor and character to the race. They should not be dismissed. They both faired very well in the first debates and are growing in popularity and support. The duo has two large hurdles. First, they need to learn the policy issues outside their professional subject matter and expertise. This should be relatively easy for to smart, driven and successful people. The second is money. This is more complicated. Their fundraising abilities will depend on how long the field stays larger than five people and their appeal to the more conservative part of the party (read evangelical money groups). If either can manage these two challenges they stand a decent chance of taking it to the convention.

Tea Party, etc.: This group has probably been the most disappointed by Trump and his performance. These guys were supposed to be the ones to challenge Jeb. (It is important to note that not all of these candidates are actually Tea Party, hence the “etc.”) Governor Scott Walker, Governor Chris Christie, Senators [mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ], [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ], and [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ] all hoped to be grilling Jeb on his not-so-conservative policies as a governor. They hoped to be the darlings of the conservative grassroots movements (and fundraising). Money will be an issue, as with The Outsiders, but they must contend with another pitfall. This group is a political version of The Hunger Games. They have already shown a predilection to attack one another. In the grand scheme of things, this might help this week, but it hurts in the long term. It’s exactly what exasperated non-liberals are sick of. If they want to prove their metal and raise the cash they will need, their best course of action is to remain focused on Hillary. Two have managed to do this so far: Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich, who was in fourth place only five days after entering the race. Their “Hillary focus” in the debates resulted is favorable bumps.

Secondhand Lions: The last group is made up of some fine gentlemen from the last election. While admirable, it is somewhat comical for any of these men to think they can beat both Trump and Jeb… and everyone else. In a far more crowded field Governor Mike Huckabee, Governor Rick Perry, and Senator Rick Santorum are outside shots at best. Their main role in the entire nomination dynamic will be syphoning off supporters and cash, but this is only as long as donors chose to do so. Most donors will probably read the tea leaves earlier rather than later. Only last week, Perry had to take to damage control that his campaign was low on cash.

None of this is an endorsement of Trump or any other candidate. It simply maps out the dynamics of how things will probably play out. An interesting situation that might play out will be if Bush falters in the primaries. All the money in the world won’t be able to get him to the convention if he can’t capture particular states, especially in the south. In Ohio and Pennsylvania, Rubio has the largest lead on Hillary Clinton of all the candidates. Carson and Rubio both lead Clinton in North Carolina. It will be interesting to see how donors react to the success of these “other” candidates. Money will play a large role for everyone except Trump. This must be both tedious and disappointing for the members of the Republican establishment. Until we get to the convention, the leadership of the GOP will just have to dream about a Trump-less universe and the race they wished they had in 2016.

Bill Eger


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