GOP Leaders Surrender to Trump

Dislike of Ted Cruz among top Republicans keeps most of them on the sidelines, paving the way for Trump to be the party’s new boss.

Donald Trump speaks during a rally on Thursday in Costa Mesa, Calif.
AP Photo/Chris Carlson
Josh Kraushaar
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Josh Kraushaar
May 1, 2016, 6 a.m.

If Don­ald Trump goes onto to win In­di­ana’s primary Tues­day, all but guar­an­tee­ing him the Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tion, the story of the GOP cam­paign will be the party lead­er­ship’s ac­qui­es­cence to the bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man. Former House Speak­er John Boehner, at a crit­ic­al mo­ment, pub­licly pro­claimed his hatred for Ted Cruz this week (“Lu­ci­fer in the flesh”) and said he would vote for Trump, an oc­ca­sion­al golf­ing part­ner and “tex­ting buddy.” Most sen­at­ors’ re­la­tion­ships with Cruz are so poor that they’ve re­mained on the side­lines in­stead of ral­ly­ing be­hind the Texas sen­at­or to stop Trump. If it wer­en’t for Trump’s self-in­flic­ted wounds after pivotal vic­tor­ies, the nom­in­a­tion would be his by now.  

In­di­ana provides the last chance for Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers to make a mean­ing­ful im­pact on the race, and most have been re­luct­ant to do so—even though the state is still com­pet­it­ive and a Cruz vic­tory would again al­ter the tra­ject­ory of the primary. Gov. Mike Pence, a hero to con­ser­vat­ives for years, be­latedly (and some­what per­func­tor­ily) en­dorsed Cruz on Fri­day. He did so after com­ing un­der re­lent­less pres­sure from al­lies who wondered why he was stay­ing on the side­lines in such a cru­cial con­test. Pence clearly was wor­ried about ali­en­at­ing the state’s bloc of Trump sup­port­ers in a year he’s run­ning for reelec­tion, and he went out of his way to praise Trump be­fore an­noun­cing his sup­port for Cruz. “I’m not against any­body, but I’m vot­ing for Ted Cruz,” Pence said.

Oth­er lead­ing Re­pub­lic­ans in the state have re­mained si­lent. Former Gov. Mitch Daniels, who con­tro­ver­sially tweaked his own party for its un­stint­ing so­cial con­ser­vat­ism dur­ing the last pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, has been pub­licly si­lent on Trump from his perch at Purdue Uni­versity. As a prin­cipled prag­mat­ist, he would have been a power­ful voice in con­vin­cing John Kasich sup­port­ers how im­port­ant it is to sup­port Cruz—simply as a means of deny­ing Trump the nom­in­a­tion. If Kasich ends up play­ing spoil­er, Daniels’s si­lence will have spoken volumes.

Be­hind the scenes, donors are ex­hausted. Even when the stakes are the highest, many are un­will­ing to dish out more anti-Trump dough. It’s one reas­on why the “Stop Trump” groups were mostly off the air­waves in the ex­pens­ive North­east­ern states hold­ing primar­ies, giv­en the pro­hib­it­ive cost of ad­vert­ising. Mean­while, there’s little en­thu­si­asm with­in Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship circles to deny Trump the nom­in­a­tion if he comes very close to the ma­gic 1,237 num­ber. Trump’s past polit­ic­al blun­ders have quickly been for­got­ten; if he wins In­di­ana, it would take an­oth­er epic blun­der for him to blow it. With Paul Man­a­fort and a more pro­fes­sion­al staff now on board, that’s less likely to hap­pen again.

What makes this GOP sur­render so re­mark­able is that, by not fight­ing Trump more ag­gress­ively, Re­pub­lic­ans are act­ing against their own self-in­terest. This rarely hap­pens in polit­ics. As I’ve out­lined pre­vi­ously, a Trump nom­in­a­tion risks severe down-bal­lot losses. Cruz, while a weak nom­in­ee, would be more likely to keep the party (un­com­fort­ably) to­geth­er—with a fight­ing chance to de­feat Hil­lary Clin­ton. It’s why Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, in a tough reelec­tion bid of his own, pub­licly an­nounced that he voted for Cruz in his blue-state primary. A na­tion­al Demo­crat­ic land­slide in 2016 would likely end Pence’s polit­ic­al ca­reer in In­di­ana.  

With Trump as the nom­in­ee, he be­comes the new party boss—at least for sev­er­al months, and po­ten­tially longer. As a per­son who prizes loy­alty above all else, he’ll un­doubtedly have scores to settle. Anti-Trump Re­pub­lic­ans who stayed si­lent as Trump bull­dozed his way through the Re­pub­lic­an Party will be in for a rude awaken­ing un­der their new mas­ter.


1.Cruz’s last-minute se­lec­tion of Carly Fior­ina as a run­ning mate was a move borne out of des­per­a­tion. Play­ing the “run­ning mate” card is one of the most valu­able moves a can­did­ate can make; that’s why it’s tra­di­tion­ally saved for the week be­fore the nom­in­ee’s con­ven­tion. In this unique elec­tion, Cruz would have pre­ferred to use his pick at a con­tested con­ven­tion, where he’d be able to se­cure del­eg­ates in ex­change for a run­ning mate’s sup­port. With the be­ne­fit of hind­sight, he should have made his choice in the af­ter­math of the New York primary to deny Trump the me­dia mo­mentum he re­ceived from the nar­rat­ive-chan­ging vic­tory.

Un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, Fior­ina is a sol­id pick. She’s an en­ga­ging speak­er, who made Cruz’s long-win­ded in­tro­duc­tion of her seem down­right dreary com­pared to her more-fo­cused, pas­sion­ate de­liv­ery. She’s a re­lent­less at­tack dog who can make the case against Clin­ton (and Trump) as well as any­one.

But Cruz wouldn’t have named her to the tick­et un­less he was try­ing to do everything in his ima­gin­a­tion to win In­di­ana. If he fails there, Fior­ina be­comes an as­ter­isk in Amer­ic­an polit­ic­al his­tory.  

2. One stra­tegic turn­ing point in the cam­paign: the de­cision by the anti-Trump Our Prin­ciples PAC to largely cede the North­east to Trump, giv­en his ex­pec­ted vic­tor­ies there. Of the six North­east­ern primar­ies held this month, the group spent money on ads only in Mary­land, in hopes of pre­vent­ing Trump from win­ning the three con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts near Wash­ing­ton. On pa­per, the de­cision made sense. Even with Trump’s huge mar­gins of vic­tory in the North­east­ern states, he didn’t net many more del­eg­ates than ex­pec­ted. But the PAC didn’t fully an­ti­cip­ate the massive mo­mentum shift from those con­tests, which has giv­en Trump a boost in fu­ture primar­ies.

It’s likely that some anti-Trump Re­pub­lic­ans, not ex­pect­ing their home-state primar­ies to be com­pet­it­ive, simply stayed home. Trump won a near-ma­jor­ity of the Re­pub­lic­an vote in the mod­er­ate-minded GOP sub­urbs around Phil­adelphia and a whop­ping  55 per­cent of the vote in tony Fair­field County, Con­necti­c­ut. Ad­vert­ising in these areas is very ex­pens­ive, so the anti-Trump forces wouldn’t have got­ten much bang for their buck. But not spend­ing to get their mes­sage out was a sure­fire way to lose badly against Trump, who’s the mas­ter of free me­dia.

3. The Demo­crat­ic es­tab­lish­ment scored two big vic­tor­ies in the Mary­land and Pennsylvania Sen­ate primar­ies on Tues­day. In Mary­land, Rep. Chris Van Hol­len de­cis­ively de­feated his House col­league Donna Ed­wards, 53-39 per­cent, po­ten­tially giv­ing in­com­ing Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic Lead­er Chuck Schu­mer a re­li­able part­ner. Katie Mc­Ginty’s com­mand­ing 10-point vic­tory over former Rep. Joe Ses­tak in Pennsylvania means the Demo­crat­ic Party’s mil­lions back­ing the vic­tor were well-spent, giv­ing the party its strongest chal­lenger against Toomey in the fall.

In Mary­land, a dus­tup between a pro-Ed­wards su­per PAC and the Obama White House proved fatal to Ed­wards’s chances. (See here for more back­ground.) While early polls showed Ed­wards with a com­mand­ing lead among Afric­an-Amer­ic­an voters, she badly un­der­per­formed in the two Afric­an-Amer­ic­an pop­u­la­tion cen­ters in the state, Bal­timore city and Prince George’s County. Ed­wards barely won a ma­jor­ity of the Bal­timore city vote (53 per­cent), and won only 63 per­cent in her home county of Prince George’s. Van Hol­len, mean­while, won 76 per­cent in his home base of Mont­gomery County and dom­in­ated else­where, car­ry­ing all but three counties in the state.

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