It is like that horror film sequel. Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) slowly awakens from a deep slumber. Something is wrong. Then, with a rising sense of terror she looks down at her abdomen, something is moving inside. The fear grows. She knows what it is. Something terrible from her past; an alien life form has taken up residence inside her. This time, the alien life form she has struggled against has won. It has invaded and destroyed the host from the inside. The climactic moment comes as the alien bursts forth, its terrifying face telling her that her worst fears have been realized, just as she wakes up to realize that it was all a dream.
But this is not a dream. Donald Trump actually is going to be the Republican Party nominee. After all the hateful rhetoric, the childish taunts, the abject self-aggrandizement, the New York billionaire won the nomination far earlier than anyone expected, and the Republican establishment was powerless to stop him.
It has been a long week for the Party of Lincoln. It was just last Tuesday that Trump trounced Ted Cruz in the Indiana primary and accepted the mantle of presumptive GOP nominee for the presidency. And it was just a week ago that Ted Cruz ended his campaign with a parting shot that summed up what many have come to believe about Trump.
“This man is a pathological liar. He doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies… The man cannot tell the truth, but he combines it with being a narcissist. A narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen… Everything in Donald’s world is about Donald. And he combines being a pathological liar, and I say pathological because I actually think Donald, if you hooked him up to a lie detector test, he could say one thing in the morning, one thing at noon and one thing in the evening, all contradictory and he’d pass the lie detector test each time. Whatever lie he’s telling, at that minute he believes it.”
This is the Donald Trump that leaders across the GOP leaders have come to know. In the first few days, the pushback against the reality that Trump would stand at the top of their ticket was fierce. Who will follow Trump off the cliff? asked George Will. (A major loser, responded Trump). I Will Not Vote For Donald Trump. Ever. Wrote Erick Erickson, the influential managing editor of the conservative Redstate blog, going so far as to demand that Republicans owe an apologyfor impeaching Bill Clinton.
“Republicans owe Bill Clinton an apology for impeaching him over lies and affairs while now embracing a pathological liar and womanizer. That apology will not be forthcoming. In fact, for years Republicans have accused the Democrats of gutter politics and shamelessness. Now the Republicans themselves have lost their sense of shame.”
The first family of the Republican Party were unanimous in their shunning of Donald Trump, as George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush each announced that they would neither support Trump nor attend the Republican National Convention in July. For his part, Jeb Bush excoriated the man whom he had pledged to support during the primary debates as lacking the temperament or strength of character to serve as president.
The days that followed were a negotiation of sorts, as one conservative after another raised questions about whether Trump was one of them, and whether they could support a man whose conduct has been so far beneath what they purported to expect of their nominee. House Speaker Paul Ryan led the charge not of those who rejected him outright, but those who believed that they could bring him to heel. Ryan pointed out the range of policy matters on which they disagreed, suggesting that he needed to see Trump meet him part way on issues like Medicare and Social Security, which Trump has pledged to protect, and other conservative issues.
Whether Ryan and others recognized it or not, they were in a negotiation. Trump knows that he won, and has proven to be loath to capitulate on the issues that Ryan cares about, particularly entitlements, and the more odious matters like the Muslim immigration ban and the Mexican wall. He knows that the base of the party that brought him this far would turn on him if he backed down in the face of the GOP elders. He alternately threatened that he neither needed nor wanted Paul Ryan’s support and then suggested that he wanted to work with the Speaker and the GOP leadership. He gave them a ray of hope, and then he hunkered down.
Then came the trump card, so to speak. Early this week, a new Quinnipiac University poll suggested that the presidential races between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the three most crucial states, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, are too close to call. The same day that the Q-poll was released, an analysis of tracking poll data released by Gallup suggested that Republicans and voters leaning Republican support Donald Trump by a 64–31 margin.
In the wake of the release of this new data, you could feel the wind going out of the anti-Trump forces in the GOP. The House GOP caucus pushed back against their leader, undermining whatever leverage the Speaker thought he might have in future negotiations with the man who will be his party’s candidate.
The great Republican crackup predicted by the influential evangelical and former George W. speechwriter Michael Gerson is looking less and less likely. What changed is the sudden realization across the Republican Party that all is not lost. Two weeks ago, the prospect of Donald Trump winning the nomination was cause for glee among Democrats. One week ago, the chasm that Trump appeared to face in the fall seemed unbridgeable, and Republican leaders turned their sight on efforts to salvage the Senate, if they could, and protect their stronghold in the House of Representatives.
Then this week, the skies parted and new polling data emerged suggesting that Donald Trump has a chance to win in the fall. Indeed, the Gallop data paints a very similar picture between the two parties. Trump’s 2-to-1 favorable-to-unfavorable ratio among their target Republican and Republican leaning voters is comparable to Hillary Clinton’s 70% favorable to 26% unfavorable support among Democrats and Democrat leaners. Gallup tracking data painted a similar picture in other areas, with polling results indicating that 71% Republicans say that they are likely to vote for Trump, compared with 21% who say they will not, while 73% of Democrats say that they are likely to vote for Hillary, as compared with 21% who say they will not.
Last week’s revolt of older party leaders — the Bushes, Mitt Romney, Lindsay Graham — who said they would never endorse Trump was all about demeanor and temperament. He is a pathological liar and narcissist, as Ted Cruz put it. Then there were those for whom it was the lack of fealty to conservative principles. Together, they looked at the alien creature that had taken over their private club with revulsion. They thought that, perhaps, if they shunned him, he might just go away. They thought it was their party, that somehow he might be shamed into line.
But it was not to be. Just like he crushed sixteen contestant getting to Indiana last week, Donald Trump has won his showdown with the GOP establishment this week, and the party has capitulated. It is Donald Trump’s party now, and he can do with it what he will, on his terms. The electorate, it seems, is way ahead of the leadership. They have moved beyond temperament and principles. And probably for good reason. Our political culture has thrown temperament to the wind for several decades now. It is a nasty business, and to suggest that calling people names is grounds for disqualification to serve seems to have been rendered quaint in light of the unrelenting nastiness that we have come to expect.
As for principles, well, the most important principle that the Republican electorate has focused on for years now is defeating Democrats, defeating Barack Obama in whatever he stands for, and now, above all, in defeating Hillary Clinton. That is the core principle on which the GOP stands today, and all else is beside the point.