The GOP establishment has rallied behind a candidate. Does it matter?

March 1, 2016
A packed venue as Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia February 29, 2016. REUTERS/ Philip Sears

Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia, February 29, 2016. REUTERS/ Philip Sears

The Republican Party establishment is coalescing behind Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Just in time to prove the establishment doesn’t matter any more.

In fact, there are two Republican Party establishments. One is the old Washington and Wall Street establishment. The other is the conservative counter-establishment. The story of the GOP since 1980 has been the increasing power of conservative activists. It started with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and culminated in the Tea Party revolt of 2010, when hardline conservatives mounted primary challenges against mainstream Republicans they considered too moderate.

This year, the establishment candidate was expected to be former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Bush got humiliated and driven out of the race by Donald Trump. Now the establishment has found a new standard-bearer. Rubio has drawn just enough support from wealthier, better-educated Republican voters to stay alive. They’re the kind of Republicans who find Trump embarrassing. But, going into Super Tuesday, Rubio hasn’t won a single state.

A poster is seen at a rally for U.S. Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio in Little Rock, Arkansas February 21, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane

A poster at a rally for Senator Marco Rubio in Little Rock, Arkansas, February 21, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane

Conservatives have their own favorite: Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who did win a state caucus (Iowa). Cruz is too radical for the old Republican establishment. He believes that threatening to shut down the federal government and default on the national debt is a good negotiating tactic. Cruz is likely to win his own state of Texas and show strength across the South on Super Tuesday. That should keep him alive for a while and complicate matters for Rubio.

Rubio is a bridge candidate who can draw support from both mainstream Republicans and ideological conservatives. After all, Rubio was elected to the Senate in 2010 as a Tea Party favorite. Even if Rubio can draw support from both the Republican establishment and the conservative counter-establishment, it still may not be enough to beat Trump.

Trump is leading a populist insurrection against both party establishments. He regularly attacks Wall Street and its favorite causes — free trade and bank bailouts. “The hedge fund guys are getting away with murder,” Trump has charged.

So the big-money boys are funding anti-Trump attack ads run by Rubio’s political action committee. Rubio himself is trying to out-trump Trump with mockery and name-calling: “If he hadn’t inherited $200 million, you know where Donald Trump would be right now? Selling watches in Manhattan.” Trump’s response: “The guy has a fresh mouth.”

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio (R) stands with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (L) after a rally at the InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia February 29, 2016. REUTERS/Tami Chappell

Senator Marco Rubio (R) with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley after a rally at the InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia, February 29, 2016. REUTERS/Tami Chappell

Rubio may discover that it’s hard to beat a master at his own game. It may be too late in any case. Rubio and other mainstream candidates have spent months attacking each other to become the leading alternative to Trump. Rubio now appears to have won that contest. But by laying off Trump, the other contenders have enabled Trump to beat them all.

Party insiders don’t much care what a candidate believes as long as he’s a winner. Their problem with Trump is that they don’t think he can get elected. He’s too coarse, too vulgar, too bigoted, too divisive. Republican officeholders are terrified that, with Trump at the top of the ticket, he could bring down the whole party. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has advised Republican senators up for re-election to drop Trump “like a hot rock.”

Some Republican insiders, including New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, are doing just the opposite. They’re jumping on the Trump bandwagon because they’ve convinced themselves that Trump can win. “The single most important thing for the Republican Party is to nominate the person who gives us the best chance to beat Hillary Clinton,” Christie said. “I can guarantee you that the one person that Hillary and Bill Clinton do not want to see on that [debate] stage, come September, is Donald Trump.”

Some insiders have even convinced themselves that they might actually be OK with Trump in the White House. With Trump, everything is negotiable, including his positions, his beliefs, even his principles. When asked how he would run in the general election, Trump told Fox News, “I will be changing very rapidly. I’m very capable of changing to anything I want to change to.”

Supporters watch as Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump's aircraft arrives for a rally during a campaign stop at the airport in Millington, Tennessee February 27, 2016. REUTERS/Karen Pulfer Focht

Supporters watch as Donald Trump’s aircraft arrives for a campaign rally in Millington, Tennessee, February 27, 2016. REUTERS/Karen Pulfer Focht

And as president? Trump told voters in Iowa, “When I’m president, I’m a different person. I can do anything. I can be the most politically correct person that you’ve ever seen.”

That’s exactly why conservatives don’t trust him. Trump prides himself in being a deal-maker. He’s not committed to any ideology. His views on the issues are just starting positions. The only thing he truly believes in is himself. He’ll do whatever it takes to advance his own interests. To his supporters, he’s smart. To conservatives, he’s a sell-out. Rubio calls Trump a “con man.”

The Tea Party paved the way for Trump by exposing the vulnerability of the party establishment. Party insiders watched helplessly as mainstream figures like Senator Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor fell to Tea Party challengers in Republican primaries.

Trump is not a Tea Party man. Big government is fine with him as long as he’s in charge of it. He has raised his own private army to take on both the establishment and the counter-establishment. Trump’s people don’t care about strategy, and they don’t care about ideological conviction.

What Trump sells is defiance. He defies Washington insiders, he defies political correctness, he defies the media and he defies conventional wisdom. He has defied former President George W. Bush and Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. He even defied the pope. The pope!

If the establishment doesn’t matter any more, who controls the nominating process? It used to be party professionals who wanted a winner. The conservative counter-establishment wanted a true believer. Both are now being challenged by angry voters. What do they want? Something that Trump offers and Rubio is now trying hard to imitate: attitude.


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Establishment’s desperation at best.

Posted by Mottjr | Report as abusive

The old GOP was not fiscally responsible and cared not at all for the slaves they abused. Add that they only really work for the wealthy and of course you get a revolt. The tea party may have started out as patriotic but the standard religious creeps showed up. Michelle Bachman, Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz portrayed themselves as part of the tea party but they never were. So, the disenfranchised moved on quickly, knowing immediately that the tea party had been subverted in a single election cycle. The GOP intends only to manipulate its constituents, never to actually service their needs as espoused. Trump won’t please them either, but he is likely a protest vote for most. Long term, they are in a tight spot (the GOP), they will either have to act upon some of the insane things they used to manipulate their base or their base will move on. And, if they actual acts as they said they intend to, then they will drive moderates out of the party because of the low and hateful actions that entails.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Haha. GOP.

Trump has proved…. republicanism is dead. Their decades of taking pride in their own ignorance and lack of “book smarts” has caught up with them. Now they look as dumb as they are.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Too little too late. It does not matter one bit. People have already decided and they won’t be swayed. Trump is a fait accompli for the GOP, because the more people try to bring him down, the more they charge up his rhetoric, which is what Trump’s voters love.

Tea Party & Republicans created this monster.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive

It’s beautiful.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

What ever happened to what the American people want? The establishment is an embarrasment, I agree Trump is a protest vote, we can’t do any worse then what we have had the last ten years. It’s just that Trump is bringing up issues that the others find out of bounds because they want to be “politically correct”. He’s a hit.

Posted by cheeze | Report as abusive

GOP created trump. It’s funny.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

“.. angry voters..”

Nah.. they are plain disgusted at the dysfunction brought upon by the corrupt ways of the establishment.

Posted by Mottjr | Report as abusive

“Trump is a con man. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.” -Mitt Romney; March 3, 2016.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

It is somewhat refreshing that the Republican nominee at least won’t be a liar and criminal like demos Hillary. The Republicans send their guy to the White House and the dumocrats end their pick to prison. America is the real winner.

Posted by fedupaj | Report as abusive

So the ‘old’ gop has been replaced by the ‘new’ gop for the most part and now the new gop led congress is the lowest rated, most worthless congress in the history of the country…..nice job.

Posted by Whipsplash | Report as abusive

Republican party is just now waking up to the fact that half its voters are racist bigots? Us Democrats could have told you that after we dropped the South in the 1960’s. GOP adopted them because they needed the numbers. Now the GOP can not win with them, can not win without them. Their own fault for not soul-searching earlier.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive