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Opinion The GOP will splinter

Some cynics on the right and certainly the latest conventional wisdom in the mainstream media hold that Republicans will line up dutifully behind Donald Trump, should he be the nominee. Even before Trump’s stunning refusal on Sunday to denounce the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke, evidence suggested there is more likely to be a split, which will leave us with an Old Republican Party and, in one form or another, a New Republican Party.

The former will be the party of nativists and opportunists. The talk-show crowd that made nativism the defining feature of the far right can be the mouthpiece for its vile rhetoric (as it is now). On Trump’s side already are Jean-Marie Le Pen, David Duke and white supremacists whom he retweets and refuses (some of the time) to condemn. Trumpkins will also make up the party of imperial presidents, for that is what they are championing right now.

Trump has gone, in recent days, into full fascist mode. On Sunday on CNN, there was this exchange:

TAPPER: I want to ask you about the Anti-Defamation League, which this week called on you to publicly condemn, unequivocally, the racism of former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke who recently said voting against you at this point would be treason to your heritage. Will you unequivocally condemn David Duke and say that you don’t want his vote or that of other white supremacists in this election?
TRUMP: Well just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke, OK? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know, did he endorse me, or what’s going on? Because, you know, I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists. And so you’re asking me a question that I’m supposed to be talking about people that I know nothing about.

On Saturday at a rally, Trump suggested that the Trump University fraud case judge’s “hostility” toward Trump is based on ethnicity. (“I believe he happens to be Spanish, which is fine. He’s Hispanic, which is fine.”) He later said the judge was hostile to him because of Trump’s position on “the wall,” referring to his immigration plan.

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All of this poses an insurmountable hurdle for most Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has already counseled Republicans up for reelection to run ads against Trump. He vows Republicans will “drop him like a hot rock” in the general election.

And that’s not the only barrier to falling in line behind Trump. His authoritarian streak has now morphed into full-blown Caesarism. Trump has already threatened the press: “We’re going to open up those libel laws so when the New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace, or when the Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected,” he said. “We’re going to open up libel laws and we’re going to have people sue you like you’ve never got sued before.” That bone-chilling peek into a Trumpian future will also entail mass roundups of suspected illegal immigrants and separation of families. Limited government and civil liberties will be discounted and discarded.

The MSM is certain — and so excited by the prospect! — that the entire GOP will line up behind this dark vision with a narcissistic buffoon as its leader. Meek conservatives tut-tutting about the Supreme Court seem not to grasp that Trump isn’t about to pay attention to courts. There will be other court openings. One does not elect a fascist simply to increase the odds of filling one opening.

Thankfully, you already have many conscientious conservatives declaring they will, under no circumstances, follow Trump. They even have a hashtag that is building a following: #NeverTrump. These Republicans are appalled by his bully-boy tactics and disgusted by his message. It will be easy to round up anti-Trump adherents. After all, Trump is getting about a third of the GOP vote, not 50.1 percent. (And his opponents’ attacks have only just begun to start peeling away persuadable voters.)

On Sunday, rising conservative star Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) put out an open letter making the case against Trump (including some of his more heinous rhetoric) and explaining why he could never support Trump. “If our Party is no longer working for the things we believe in – like defending the sanctity of life, stopping ObamaCare, protecting the Second Amendment, etc. – then people of good conscience should stop supporting that party until it is reformed, ” he wrote. He continued, “Given what we know about him today, here’s where I’m at: If Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee, my expectation is that I will look for some third candidate — a conservative option, a Constitutionalist.”

In fact, efforts are underway to explore the potential for an independent run. A group of donors has already engaged a firm to figure out the timing and logistics, Politico reports. (“A memo prepared for the group zeroes in on ballot access as a looming obstacle for any independent candidate, along with actually identifying a viable, widely known contender and coalescing financial support for that person. The two states with the earliest deadlines for independent candidates, Texas and North Carolina, also have some of the highest hurdles for independents to get on the ballot, according to the research.”) Despite Republicans’ inability to come up a coherent approach to defeating Trump early on, the New York Times reports: “Resistance to Mr. Trump still runs deep. The party’s biggest benefactors remain totally opposed to him. At a recent presentation hosted by the billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch, the country’s most prolific conservative donors, their political advisers characterized Mr. Trump’s record as utterly unacceptable, and highlighted his support for government-funded business subsidies and government-backed health care, according to people who attended.”

The media, licking its collective chops, cannot wait for the GOP to become the party of racists, misogynists and authoritarians that liberals have always portrayed Republicans to be. Although the media cannot fathom a large contingent of principled conservatives for whom Trump is as bad as, if not worse than, Hillary Clinton, there are droves of them. Add up the votes of Republicans who voted for someone other than Trump in the primaries and you can see how sizable it really is. Add in all the new #NeverTrump Republicans who have been outraged by Trump’s behavior in just the last few days. There will be libertarians, moderates and conservatives — the foundation of the Old GOP, before Trump came along — who will need someone to vote for, finding Trump and Clinton entirely unacceptable. And if Clinton winds up in legal hot water — or continues to be an unimpressive candidate — Democrats  might look to jump ship.

The split on the right may manifest itself in an entirely different party, or simply, for now, a third candidate on the presidential level. It is not a foregone conclusion that this will result in Clinton’s election. If we have learned anything from Trump, it is that he defies ideology and can appeal to blue-collar white Democrats. We could well have a tight three-person race.

For downticket Republicans, an alternative presidential candidate would be the most effective damage control tactic if Trump were the nominee, and maybe the only way to avoid a landslide of 1964-esque proportions. At least principled Republicans would come to the polls to vote against Trump and Clinton, and then cast votes for downticket races as well. If, however, these voters stay home, it is possible the GOP will lose the Senate, and maybe even the House.

To recap, the media has concluded that Trump is unstoppable and his takeover of the GOP is a certainty. We find that absurd, transparently wishful thinking. Republicans — real ones and not xenophobes and haters — have only begun to fight. This weekend we began to see the #NeverTrump movement blossom. It has a persuasive leader in Sasse, and other respected voices will join. There is no rule that says a national Republican Party must always exist. And if Trump wins its nomination, there will be a moral imperative to break up the vehicle he would use to win the White House.

UPDATE: In a stirring statement endorsing Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), former senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) declared, “Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, ‘Cowardice asks the question — is it safe? Expediency asks the question — is it politic? Vanity asks the question — is it popular? But conscience asks the question — is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.’ ” He concluded, “Donald Trump’s campaign is a fabrication. He is perpetuating a fraud on the American people. His empty promises, bullying and bloviating rhetoric will only deepen the frustration and disillusionment that gave rise to his campaign. He simply lacks the character, skills and policy knowledge to turn his grandiose promises into reality.”