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.

Donald Trump Speaking

Republican insiders don’t really have much a plan to try to stop Donald Trump:

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.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. JohnMcC says:

    Just a thought sparked by the headline, that the ‘establishment’ is relying on REPUBLICAN voters to deny Mr Trump the nomination. And that doesn’t seem to be working at all.

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Their Plan ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ thru ‘Z’, is “Let Hillary do it.”

  3. MarkedMan says:

    I’ve yet to see any analysis as to whether Trump is actually organizing an adequate infrastructure to contest 30-50 primaries. Anyone know?

  4. Our nomination system is very voter-centric and the ability of the “establishment” to “do something” is limited. (Indeed, we have institutionally weak parties).

    If the primary electorate truly wants Trump, then it will be Trump.

    But as I keep pointing out: there is going to be a winnowing of the contest (we aren’t going to have a dozen-ish candidates the whole way). This will eventually change the dynamic of the race one way or another.

  5. PJ says:

    Giuliani lead almost every nationwide poll in 2005, 2006, and 2007, and when he didn’t lead he was within the margin of error of the leader. Then came January 2008, and it was all over for the “verb, noun, and 9/11” guy…

    But then, I don’t see Trump ignoring the early states, as Giuliani did, Trump is in the lead in all the pre Super Tuesday states; Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada.

  6. JohnMcC says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: This is a field that’s been well plowed, of course. And thanx for that professor-ish note about the weakness of American political parties (which we tend to forget in the media storm). But just for the heck of it I’ll toss in my little contribution that Mr Trump will have to be beaten by an actual candidate not by a string of commercials or anti-endorsements. The segment of the Repub field that’s been ‘winnowed’ (I prefer ‘culled’ but it’s less alliterative) so far has been the two governors (Walker & Perry) and there’s been no effect on the polling of the other governors’ and senators’ segment.

    I am as amazed by the Trump phenomenon as you, Dr T, and as Nate Silver who gives Mr Trump a less than 20% chance. But I don’t see anyone who can stop him.

    As David Frum says in the Atlantic, the R-party ‘establishment’ asserted that Gov Palin was a reasonable potential president. After that they have no credibility saying that Mr Trump is not.

  7. Kylopod says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Our nomination system is very voter-centric and the ability of the “establishment” to “do something” is limited. (Indeed, we have institutionally weak parties).

    You do realize that’s distinctly a minority view among political scientists, right?

    If you read blogs like 538, Vox, and Jonathan Bernstein, one book that has been the source of a lot of discussion lately is The Party Decides, which argues the exact opposite of what you’re saying–that presidential nominations in the modern era (since 1972, the year when the system was last overhauled) are largely a reflection of the preferences of party elites, despite their outward appearance of being the choice of voters.

    For the record, I have not yet read the book (though I’ve read extensive interviews with some of the authors), and I’m skeptical of its thesis. But one thing is clear, and that’s that since 1980 no candidate completely at odds with their party’s establishment has ever won the nomination (despite mythology about the rise of Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama). It’s a limited data set, but it is worth considering.

    Personally, it feels like we’ve been here before. Four years ago, I kept being told by people that the Tea Party had taken over the GOP, that they were unstoppable, that there was no way they’d accept the godfather of Obamacare as their nominee. When I pointed out how the GOP had nominated that RINO exemplar John McCain the last time, I was promptly told that the party had moved to the right since then and that “this time it’s different.”

    They were right. 2012 was different from 2008, as 2016 is from 2012. Believe me, I’ve heard all the differences. The string of right-wing crushes in 2012–Bachmann, Cain, Perry, Gingrich, Santorum–all proved temporary. There was no figure like Trump (except Trump himself–people forget that he flirted with running that year and for a period of time led many polls until his support very suddenly collapsed following the release of Obama’s birth certificate and the near-simultaneous death of Bin Laden). Furthermore, Romney was always in either first or second place in the polls; there’s no establishment candidate this year who has achieved that level of strength yet.

    But a few things should be kept in mind. First, Romney basically had the “establishment” lane all to himself. All his potential challengers for elite support–Pawlenty, Huntsman, and Perry–fizzled out quickly. Nobody was crazy about him, not even the elites, who were slow to throw their support behind him. But once they did, it had an effect. At this point four years ago Romney had just 17% in polls; a majority of Republicans backed Gingrich, Santorum, Cain, or Bachmann.

    This time, there are several “Romney” candidates–Rubio, Jeb, Kasich, Christie–and the simple fact is that the elites haven’t made up their mind yet. keeps track of what it calls “the endorsement primary,” based on research suggesting that in past races, the number of endorsements a candidate received from party elites has been far more predictive of the eventual nominee than polling of voters. So far, Jeb still leads in endorsements, though it’s relatively few. The fact is that the elites are sitting on their hands right now. Once they throw their support behind one candidate–say, Rubio–the polls may begin to look very different than they do now, just like four years ago.

    Maybe you don’t believe they will. But isn’t it just a tad premature to pronounce the GOP establishment’s death before they’ve even made up their minds?

  8. al-Ameda says:

    This is like the current Syrian Refugee/ISIS panic – no need to jump off the cliff yet.

    It’s too early – not even December and there have been no votes, no caucuses, no primaries – not a damned empirical result to pin anything on. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the Republican campaign immensely.

  9. Argon says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I was going to suggest something similar. They have no realistic plans for dealing with the economy, wage disparity, US involvement abroad and how to run a functional government. There is no plan there.

  10. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    “Who are we, the donor-fundraiser class, to dictate to the voters? The voters can figure this out.”


  11. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    Back on topic: Trump has the most dingbatty 20-some percent of a relatively…well…confused comes to mind, political party. It’s still way too early to predict what even the dingbats in the party will do when they step into the polling booth (if his 20-some % are even part of the 30 or 40-some percent that vote at all). If Paris and ISIS’s pending full-scale invasion of ‘Murka are still on people’s radar at election time, Trump’s tough talk resonate somewhat better–to the extent that voters who are not dingbats will be willing to vote for Trump because he can talk tough.

    Call me complacent, but I’m willing to wait this out until at least the middle of next year before I consider moving to Uruguay.

  12. Dave Francis says:

    Forget it! Majority of American patriots are akin to me and not going to change their minds in NOT voting for Donald Trump. The GOP establishment must be sweating around the collar, because they are dramatically dropping in the polls. Their value is ONLY worth what they can glean from the wealthy providers for their campaigns and their secret bank accounts. All their consultants are desperate as they are going to be out of a job. Those investigative reporters the Left and Right hire, are really digging in the thick ooz, as they have nothing to attack the ‘Donald’ with? The only possible way they can place their puppet nominee as a winner in the primaries, if they rig the system?

    Using a LCC Limited Liability Corporation, the GOP elites are on the warpath and currently sifting through Donald Trumps past, slavering over any juicy bit of dirt they can dig up. They are so desperate that they will no longer be able to control the country and its populace? That all the prior ‘Gotcha’ questions, or any mistakes that Trump has made when being placed in rushed interviews and twisting his statements or just slicing parts of his statements which is nothing like the original narrative. Using this deceptive format and then regurgitating in front of the public. The Hillary activists and the GOP advocates will cut corners and enter the gray side of the law, to orally slit Trumps throat–whatever it takes?


    The GOP and the Democrats are scared stiff of Mr. Trump, as he will cut off the illegal alien tidal wave; their cheap labor will dry up as with the Left, a vigilant watch on foreign nationals who might try to vote illegally for Ex Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 2016 will most likely be the most important Presidential race in this century, as under Obama succession Madam Clinton, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi will do just about anything to gain the upper hand including the trait of a blind eye while illegal aliens vote.

    Both political fronts will do anything to stop Donald Trump, but they should have thought about this when the Republicans ignored Obamas illegal executive actions. Prior speaker John Boehner should have begun Congressional action to impeach this President, to end the overreaching Obamacare and put a cap on the federal budget. Many Americans have no trust in government and are of one thought that Obama consolidated a plot with Boehner in silent complicity? Whether this puzzling issue is true or not, these poorly planned issues passed?

    With the terrible tragedy in Paris, I would keep the Syrians refugees at home. The majority of Americans and lawful immigrants have the same elementary demand, that all the unplaced people should be relocated into any safe region in or around Syria with an inexhaustible supply line of food, shelter, and health care with a militarized presence. It’s far safer to the alternative of most likely Jihadists terrorists intermixed with real refugees and the expense will be kept at a minimum?

    Back home, it’s a fact that the main issue for the main alert of Americans is the illegal alien invasion that has become a depressive theme, in incessant campaign of ignorance, which Obama has gone to great lengths to ignore peoples will. This administration has been in combat mode to steadfastly refuse to place any enforcement barriers to stop the influx?

    Donald Trump WALL will be an absolute key benefit, if it’s equal to the barrier in the West bank of Israel? The Israeli wall was 96 miles long Israel’s barrier is still under construction, but it’s expected to accomplish at least 403 miles in length. The Israeli wall In addition to the concrete wall and fencing materials used in the construction of the structure, sections of Israel’s Separation Barrier additionally include electrified fencing, roads for surveillance vehicles, electronic ground/fence sensors, thermal imaging and video cameras, unmanned aerial drones (UAVs), sniper towers, and concertina razor wire. The Palestinians call it the Berlin Wall, but it keeps the murdering terrorists out, whereas our Southern border has hundreds of miles of open land.

    Having no indication of how Trumps wall will be constructed, it will be an immense barrier to stop the welfare invaders, female slavery, and the drug cartels. While the federal government is outlaying $$ 100-200 Billions dollars in social services, which amount of money would build the great wall of America? How come we have military in different parts of the world, but we cannot control our borders?

    Donald Trump has pledged to the American people enforcement of immigration laws, which he has extended to a massive removal process. Going from door to door and with special ICE agents, seem even to me the wrong approach as it would cost unknown amount of dollars and the transport of foreigners out of the country? A more intelligent plan would be using MANDATORY E-VERIFY against the real criminal, which are the company owners? Only a few states have recognized that mandatory E-Verify that can succeed, without the huge outlay?

    Blatantly, deportation has not been significantly enforced, because organizations as the US Chamber of Commerce, trade unions and the thousands of corporate and Industrial management have used the wealth of the business world, to buy off many in the Senate and House of Representatives. Laws to protect or defend our nation from foreign and domestic enemies have been lax under this government. Removal numbers have been fudged, as well of the actual numbers of illegal aliens in the United States. It’s a terrible situation when a population has no faith in their own government, almost in similarity to a dictatorship.

    The US Chamber of Commerce will try to dislodge Mandatory E-Verify, as it means the end of ‘Cheap Labor’ and an eventual end to the incursion of millions of foreigners. Black Americans, Latino Americans, Hispanic Americans, White American will finally gain access to jobs, better benefits and the welfare rolls will slowly drop. Only Senior Citizens will who have so much experience, will once again get hired as well as the younger folk, who completed seasonal work. There will be no excuse for not finding a place in the work force.

    Obama Homeland Security will become a thing of the past, with a more efficiently to clean up the corruption in the State Department and the White House. Trumps first executive order will be to recruit more internal ICE officers, who will raid daily businesses with suspicious activity. Presently only new employees are vetted through a poorly operated E-Verify procedure; a major change will come on Trumps executive planning with the verification of every employee in any workplace, To reiterate everybody’s Social Security # will be checked, The application will cross reference with Death records and other data bases. Each ICE agent will carry a digital portable identifier, which will uncover deceptive people who are not a citizen, naturalized citizen, or green card holder.

    Millions of unauthorized workers will have an opportunity to leave the country by their own recognizance, as jobs will soon become non-existence as employers consider the reality, that there are harsh punishment for hiring anybody who doesn’t fall into official worker classification. Unknown numbers of informants will have an 800 number to offer evidence of companies using foreign nationals who have no right to jobs and collect a reward.

    Keep your own job opportunity in mind by learning more investigative reports at Judicial Watch and the Corruption Files and with further purpose NumbersUSA,

  13. steve says:

    Being in medicine, I immediately assumed this meant the GOP had no way to retroactively abort the guy. Tis a shame.


  14. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Dave Francis:

    Majority of American patriots are akin to me

    With one difference: They know can still STFU.

  15. PJ says:

    @Dave Francis:

    Unknown numbers of informants will have an 800 number to offer evidence of companies using foreign nationals who have no right to jobs and collect a reward.

    Lets call that Stasi.

  16. Lit3Bolt says:

    @Dave Francis:

    Why yes I would be interested in buying a copy of The Turner Diaries!

  17. WR says:

    @Dave Francis: “Unknown numbers of informants will have an 800 number to offer evidence of companies using foreign nationals who have no right to jobs and collect a reward.”

    Ah, another small-goverment conservative!

  18. al-Ameda says:

    @Dave Francis:

    The GOP and the Democrats are scared stiff of Mr. Trump, as he will cut off the illegal alien tidal wave; their cheap labor will dry up as with the Left, a vigilant watch on foreign nationals who might try to vote illegally for Ex Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

    Democrats are not scared of Donald Trump, in fact Democrats could not ask for more than what Trump has done to the Republican Party.

  19. DrDaveT says:

    @Dave Francis:

    The GOP and the Democrats are scared stiff of Mr. Trump

    As @al-Ameda notes, you’re half-right about that. The GOP are scared stiff. Democrats recognize that every primary vote for Trump is essentially a vote for Hillary in the end.

  20. Louis Wheeler says:

    The Trump voter is not concerned, because they know that Trump’s opponents lie, just like the author above did. He stated things as true which are, at best, questionable.

    If you go back to Trump’s original statements, they are rarely close to what the author implied. Trump is human and is not a professional politician, so he makes errors on side issues.

    Take the McCain issue, for instance. Trump had a rally in Arizona and never got McCain’s permission to hold it. McCain responded to this by calling out Trump’s supporters as crazy. Trump defended his people at a christian news network. The video is available.

    Someone off camera (John) made a statement excusing McCain because he was a hero due to his being a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Trump questioned McCain’s hero status and then took it back in the next breath. The media blew up a retracted statement into a cause célèbre. The author states this issue as if the instant retraction never existed. The author must have never seen the video or didn’t care. Don’t let the truth get in the way of the narrative you are pushing.

    Or take the Megyn Kelly incident. Megan set up a series of prejudicial statements and demanded that Trump apologize for being in a war on women.

    Trump refused to cooperate. He said he was only at war with Rosie O’ Donnell. This turned the tables on Megyn, because a man can be at war with a single woman, without being prejudiced against all.

    Megyn was furious at having her attack fail. Trump commented on her being furious. He got a little visual in describing her fury: blood coming out of her eyes and her … whatever. It took a massive leap of imagination for the leftist media to turn a woman’s “whatever” into her vagina.

    Why was Megyn so furious? Why was she so biased? Who gave her the right to use democrat talking point to sabotage Trump? I could see on the video that she was furious, but she was supposed to be unbiased and clearly wasn’t. Should Trump not have mentioned her bigotry against him?

    Ted Cruz in the third debate called out the Media for their anti-republican bias. The Media, including Fox, merely tried to take down Trump first. The fourth debate, by Fox Business, was more respectful to the candidates.

    The Media often think themselves as gatekeepers. They think they can prevent us from learning about events and issues. That they can frame the public discourse. The internet makes this impossible. it is all on YouTube if you will take a minute to look it up.

  21. anjin-san says:

    @Dave Francis:

    Donald Deferment appreciates your support.