Republican Establishment Relying On Voters To Take Out Trump, And They Have No ‘Plan B’
The GOP "establishment" isn't planning to take on Donald Trump directly and instead relying on Republican primary voters to come to their senses. They may be waiting for something that will never happen.
When Donald Trump landed in Ohio this week, he got a taste of the meager Republican super PAC efforts aimed at him: a 47-second Web video clipping together some of his most provocative comments and a small airplane trailing a banner proclaiming, “Ohioans Can’t Trust Trump.”
As the combative mogul enters his fifth month at the top of the GOP presidential field, attempts to derail him remain anemic, underfunded and unfocused — and they will probably stay that way until the Iowa caucuses in less than 10 weeks.
Most of the party’s financiers and top strategists are sitting on the sidelines. Many are reluctant to spend money against Trump after watching others fumble as they tried to handle his counterpunches. Others, citing past elections, remain confident that the race will eventually pivot away from him early next year.
The political network backed by the billionaire Koch brothers has no plans to take on Trump. American Crossroads, the super PAC co-founded by strategist Karl Rove, is steering clear and fixated on Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton instead. Right to Rise, the super PAC backing Jeb Bush, is not gearing up to attack Trump either. And major Republican donors, such as hedge-fund manager Paul Singer and the Ricketts family, have shown no interest in supporting the few organizations trying to undercut him.
“It is probably accurate to say there is very little money for these endeavors,” said Liz Mair, a Republican consultant who recently started an anti-Trump group called Trump Card. “Our group has donors and money, but it’s not like we have hundreds of people.”
Trump has reveled in the GOP’s hand-wringing over his candidacy and has taunted groups targeting him as a “disgrace.”
“I think people are surprised that, you know, they’re politicians and they’ve been doing this stuff all their lives. I haven’t. I’ve been a job producer,” Trump said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “I guess they can’t understand what’s happening.”
The absence of a big-money response to Trump is especially striking, given the mounting anxiety among GOP leaders about his lasting dominance in the race and his accumulation of incendiary statements. Some also are wary of trying to short-circuit him in a year when anger toward elites is boiling over.
“I don’t think there’s any group of establishment donors trying to take down a candidate, nor should there be,” said Fred Malek, finance chairman of the Republican Governors Association. “Who are we, the donor-fundraiser class, to dictate to the voters? The voters can figure this out.”
The fear of Trump bolting the party to run as an independent hovers, as well. Trump has repeatedly warned that if he is provoked and not treated “fairly,” he may reconsider his pledge to support whoever wins the Republican nomination.
The resistance to committing to all-out warfare has far-reaching consequences, leaving Trump poised to face only scattered challenges in the final weeks before the first contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. Several senior Republicans said this week that they expect Trump’s staying power to persist through the spring — possibly forcing the primary fight to spill into next summer’s convention.
Rather than taking on Trump directly, the current attitude among top Republicans and the donor class seems to be the trust the voters:
More than a dozen interviews with high-profile GOP financiers revealed a pervasive confidence that the party’s rank-and-file voters will ultimately reject Trump’s brand of politics.
“He is going to implode himself,” said Frank VanderSloot, the chief executive of an Idaho nutritional-supplement company who is backing Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.). He said he recently turned down a funding request from a group seeking to run anti-Trump ads.
“It’s just going to take a little time for people to take a step back and look at his track record, see who he is and how he’s changed his positions and how unprepared he is to be president of the United States,” VanderSloot said.
That view is shared by Andrew Sabin, a longtime New York donor supporting Bush.
“I’m not worried,” Sabin said. “The voters are not going to think out their candidate until a week or two before they go into the voting booth.”
Another reason wealthy donors are holding back: a widespread conclusion that it is futile to try to dislodge the New York billionaire, who has successfully parried nearly every attack.
“I’m not sure someone wouldn’t do better to take their money and throw it off a tall building,” said Henry Barbour, a Mississippi-based operative who is unaligned with any of the campaigns. “I think the voters who are for Trump are not going to move off from Trump.”
After conducting two focus groups of Trump supporters this fall, GOP consultant Frank Luntz said he has concluded that there is no political issue or stance that will turn off his supporters.
“They came to him because he is unlike any other politician,” Luntz said. “That allows him to do and say things others could not and get away with it.”
One party strategist privy to recent research on Trump voters said that none of the messages tested swayed them — including his past support for universal health care or fond words about Bill and Hillary Clinton.
“They’re incredibly angry, and he’s the first guy in their mind who speaks to that anger in a visceral way,” said the strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the findings. “They have a deep longing for that.”
On some level, the reluctance of the insiders to step in and try to bring Trump down is entirely understandable and may well be the best option that have at this point. Time after time over the course of the past five months, we’ve seen Trump brush off every effort to bring him down in the polls. The comments about Mexican immigrants didn’t do it, the comments about John McCain didn’t do it, the insults hurled at Megyn Kelly and Carly Fiorina didn’t do it, and neither did the attacks on Ben Carson. It’s unlikely that his recent comments about increased surveillance of Muslim Americans or the insults directed at a disabled New York Times reporter will do it. If all of this didn’t cause the people supporting Donald Trump to be turned off by him as so many people have expected, there’s no reason to believe that a campaign by a bunch of Republican insiders would do any better, no matter how well-funded it is.
Additionally, as linked article notes, it seems likely that the kind of insider attack campaign against Trump that you might ordinarily expect in this type of situation would only backfire to Trump’s benefit. More than any election cycle before, the 2016 campaign is clearly running to no small degree on an anti-establishment theme that is fueling not just Trump’s campaign, but also those of candidates such as Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Carly Fiorina. The candidates who are most associated with the GOP “establishment,” meanwhile, such as Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich, are presently averaging 5.5%, 3.0% and 2.8% respectively in the RealClearPolitics national average and there doesn’t seem to be much sign that any of them are going to be rising in the polls any time soon. Trump in particular has relished in taking on the anti-establishment theme and attacking the Republican donor class. If they were to try to fund a major campaign against him, he’s only step up those attacks, and he’d probably end up getting the better of the battle.
So, that leaves the Republican establishment hoping that voters will see the light, or that the numbers we’re seeing in the polls for Trump right now don’t reflect where he’ll be when the voting actually starts. It’s not much to pin your hopes on, obviously, but it’s not necessarily an idea without merit. It’s still unclear, for example, just how easy it will be for Trump’s campaign to turn poll support into votes, especially in a place like Iowa when doing well means getting people to go out on a cold caucus night and stand in a room for several hours before the process is concluded. In New Hampshire it’s not clear what kid of get out the vote effort the Trump campaign is even putting together, or whether it will be successful in getting people to the polls. Additionally, as Nate Silver has noted, there are still two months to go before anyone votes in this campaign and the fact that Iowa and New Hampshire voters typically haven’t made their final decision until the final weeks of the campaign leaves open the possibility that Trump’s numbers could start to fall as we get closer to decision day for voters. If that doesn’t happen, though, and Trump does well in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, and then goes on to do well in Nevada and Florida, then it may be too late for any group of donors to stop Trump no matter how much money they pour into the effort.