The Republican Party emerged from the 2014 midterm elections in fine fettle. Analysts competed to describe exactly how long it had been since the GOP had the kind of power it would exert in Congress and in the several states — pretty much everywhere other than the White House. And the White House itself, with Barack Obama about to leave office with poor job-approval ratings, a meh economy, and overseas crises growing like Topsy, seemed an overripe fruit ready to fall.
Best of all, the party elders appeared to have finally gained the upper hand in their battle with angry tea-party conservatives. They largely avoided the rash of primary defeats to unelectable wingnuts that cost them the Senate in 2010 and 2012, and even got candidates to attend special training sessions where they learned not to stumble into stupid comments about things like “legitimate rape.” The RNC’s 2013 “autopsy report” on the 2012 presidential loss that stressed the demographic importance of not offending Latinos, women, and young people had become the conventional wisdom. And in sharp contrast to 2012, it appeared the party would have a large and deep 2016 presidential field, led by candidates with impressive federal and state experience like Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, and John Kasich.
Fast-forward to the waning days of 2015 and of the invisible primary before the presidential nominating process gets very real and very fast. Far from debating the best vehicle for minority outreach, the GOP presidential field is being driven into a nativist, Islamophobic frenzy by a candidate nobody thought would even run. Establishment favorite Jeb Bush appears to be trying to decide whether to crawl off to (politically) die or instead use his super-pac to damage every other candidate not named Donald Trump in order to lift himself above a desolate landscape. The most viable alternative to Trump at present may be a harshly right-wing freshman senator despised by his colleagues who is stopping just short of embracing the entire Trump agenda.
It’s all gotten so bad that Republican pooh-bahs (including RNC chairman Reince Priebus and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) convened a “secret” dinner to plot a strategy to block Trump at the convention if his success continues into the voting phase of the nomination contest. This development was instantly leaked to the Washington Post, presumably by someone believing it would send a “help’s on the way!” message to Republicans worried about a party veering out of control. Instead, it produced this reaction (as reported by Talking Points Memo):
If Republican party bosses continue meeting to discuss how to derail Donald Trump at the convention, Trump won’t be the only one to turn his back on the GOP. Now, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson says he’ll leave too.
“If the leaders of the Republican Party want to destroy the party, they should continue to hold meetings like the one described in the Washington Post this morning.
“If this was the beginning of a plan to subvert the will of the voters and replaces it with the will of the political elite, I assure you Donald Trump will not be the only one leaving the party.
“I pray that the report in the Post this morning was incorrect. If it is correct, every voter who is standing for change must know they are being betrayed. I won’t stand for it.
“This process is the one played out by our party. If the powerful try to manipulate it, the Republican National Convention in Cleveland next summer may be the last convention.
So what was intended as a quiet session to explore ways to block Trump without giving him an excuse to run as an independent is already spurring anti-Establishment revolt that will feed the paranoia of “angry outsiders” while generating an open invitation to an indie Trump run from another candidate.
Nice work, GOP Establishment! What’s next? A Draft Romney movement? I really wouldn’t put it past them.