Opinion writer

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

As we have noted before, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has walked on egg-shells so as not to annoy Donald Trump. He’s bent over backwards to declare him one of many “outstanding” candidates and to pledge the party’s “100 percent” support if Trump is the nominee. Predictably, Priebus’s efforts have been fruitless and Trump is now conducting not so much a presidential campaign as a running monologue on why the RNC is dirty, crooked, fixed and whatever other adjective pops into the billionaire’s head. Trump is now committed to delegitimizing the party and any non-Trump nominee.

Priebus has avoided directly calling Trump out for threats and bigoted remarks, but he is getting just a teeny bit peeved at Trump. He tweeted on Tuesday, “Nomination process known for a year + beyond. It’s the responsibility of the campaigns to understand it. Complaints now? Give us all a break.” Harrumph.

On Wednesday, he told CNN’s audience, “The rules are not being changed to injure or benefit anybody. They’re in writing and they are what they are. All the candidates have the rules of the game.” He then, unbelievably, seemed to excuse Trump’s efforts to slander the party and discredit whoever else might “steal” the nomination from him. “When people are frustrated or angry, they sometimes say things that they regret. This is going to blow over.”

For heaven’s sake, no, Mr. Priebus. It is not going to blow over, and this is part of an orchestrated temper tantrum meant to discredit and undermine the party, despite the worthless pledge Priebus carried over to Trump Tower. Trump’s latest insults go hand in hand with surrogates’ threats to reveal the whereabouts of delegates at the convention and to incentivize Trump admirers to act out in what Roger Stone calls “days of rage,” a reference to the violent riots let by the Weather Underground (Bill Ayres old outfit) in 1969 in Chicago. It is the sort of rhetoric that inspires 3,000 phone calls and even death threats against the GOP Colorado state chairman.

Priebus still does not get it. He still is skittish Trump will bolt the party. (Please, go!) Priebus should be worried about the party bolting him and Trump, who could well find themselves in a half-filled convention hall with an empty shell of a party if Trump’s putsch succeeds. Rather than brush aside Trump, Priebus should be making clear Trump’s conduct is a moral outrage, the conduct of petty autocrats who before losing a referendum attack the machinery of democracy and let loose mobs. Priebus should demand Trump apologize to the delegates and to the voters. Trump will not, but it sure would let the delegates know that it is their participation that is being attacked.

Perhaps coincidentally, conservative blogger and radio host Erick Erickson on Wednesday  issued a written statement on behalf of a large group of #NeverTrump conservatives: “As economic, defense, and faith conservatives, we oppose Donald Trump and will not vote for him in the coming general election. Our objective is two-fold: the election of a conservative president and averting the debacle of a Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders administration. To achieve these objectives, the candidacy of Donald Trump must be defeated.”

After reeling off a list of objections to Trump, Erickson declared: “Rather than solving problems, Trump would greatly deepen and exacerbate them by undermining our constitutional system and heightening our country’s already significant social, economic and political challenges. This faux-Republican has appealed not to the better angels of our nature, but has preyed on misunderstanding, propagated ignorance, and fostered bigotry, resentment, and even violence.” He added, “He is, in fact, the very type of politician our Founders warned against as a threat to limited government and individual liberty.” Erickson and his group are committed to keeping Trump from getting the nomination. He concludes with this: “Should this effort fail, we will join with other faithful conservatives to find new candidates and institutions to carry on the fight for conservative principles and policies.”

Mr. Priebus, he’s talking to you. If the RNC is unable to defend its own institution and to prevent a hostile takeover, a large segment of the conservative movement will leave to field a new candidate, and maybe a new party. Priebus should start worrying about that and stop fretting that he’ll irritate Trump.