We suspect that when he gave Donald Trump the opportunity to unify the party, Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) knew Trump wouldn’t be able to do it. Someone as narcissistic and as devoid of conservative principles as Trump couldn’t become a conciliatory, minimally coherent Republican. Still, he probably did not expect Trump to blow it so quickly and vividly.
In the space of a few days, Trump’s campaign chief, Paul Manafort, told movement conservatives that the agenda of the GOP is now whatever Trump believes (which varies from day to day). Trump declared that “don’t forget, this is called the Republican Party. It’s not called the Conservative Party.” This is a man with no grounding in any ideology, telling the party that being Republican means whatever he wants it to mean. Great way to chase those people for whom politics is about something other than winning and losing, huh?
Trump reversed himself on the minimum wage and now vows to raise taxes. Those Republicans who said the party had to fall in line behind him or we’d have tax increases, job-killing minimum wage hikes and socialized medicine — all things he said at one time or another that he wants –need a new excuse to back the billionaire mogul. Having supported him based on the hope his tax plan would last a millisecond after his nomination, leaders of anti-tax groups — or really any group with “conservative” in its name — look like chumps.
It is not simply that Trump lacks consistent conservative principles; rather, he lacks any principles whatsoever. Republicans who argue he has to be elected because the Supreme Court swing seat is at issue need to explain why they have the least bit of confidence in Trump’s pick. If he thought it would be to his advantage to nominate a liberal justice, he surely would. Moreover, he is unlikely to be able to discern the next David Souter from the next Antonin Scalia.
Most horrifying for Republicans, Trump now declares the party does not have to be united. “Does the party have to be together? Does it have to be unified? I’m very different than everybody else — perhaps that’s ever run for office,” he said. “I actually don’t think so.” Huh?! Wasn’t he saying just weeks ago he could unite the party? Right now Trump has less than 85 percent of Republicans, historically very low. With that many defections and his massive problem with women and minorities, he is putting states in play — for Hillary Clinton. A recent Georgia poll has the two statistically tied. He may be the first presidential candidate in history who doesn’t want votes from his own party.
What explains the tear Trump has been on? He is not used to being told no. No wonder Ryan “blindsided” him. (Trump then falsely told reporters the two had spoken after Trump’s New York primary win. But then he also lied about having discussions with former rival Sen. Marco Rubio.) Perhaps he considers it beneath him to woo and cajole Republicans. When they refuse to kiss the ring, he acts out, as he always does when he does not get his way.
It may come as a shock to defiant Trumpkins that Republicans have a choice to reject Trump now and in November. They can find a third candidate. They can ticket-split. And they can stay home. Once Republicans decide — as thousands are every day — that Trump is unfit to serve, any compunction to vote for him disappears.
Trump’s recent behavior only encourages Republicans to find a third candidate. “I think Trump is who Trump is, and can’t support him,” says Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol who is front and center in the effort to find such a person. “But for those who’ve been hoping he’s not quite as irresponsible and reckless as he’s seemed to be, that there will be a new Trump, recent days would suggest those hopes have been in vain. Meet the new Trump–same as the old Trump.”
Moreover, unless a third candidate can be found to drive GOP turnout, there is growing fear the Senate and the House majorities may be lost. Ryan is not going to sacrifice his majority for the sake of aligning them with an erratic crank, who is heading for massive defeat. Unless Trump embraces conservatism with the fervor of a convert and becomes a whole new person (and sustains that new persona for six months), Republicans inevitably will be running away from Trump by the fall. They’ll be running ads to invite ticket-splitting in order to save their seats. (Don’t give Hillary a blank check!)
Truth be told, the character issues with Trump are so enormous (dishonesty, bigotry, misogyny, lack of impulse control, etc.) that there are many conservatives who will never accept him. Judging from his conduct over the past few days, Trump is making it easier for principled Republicans to reject him. And he is underscoring the need for a third candidate, one of solid character who offers an agenda different from the Trump/Clinton big-government proposals. In short, Republicans need not reject Trump; Trump has already rejected them.