The Fight to Save the Republican Party is Underway. Is it Worth it?
With Ted Cruz’s resounding victory in Wisconsin, the Republican Primary is more likely than ever to result in an open convention in 2016.
Donald Trump is being out-organized. Sensing the possibility of a contested convention, Ted Cruz’s campaign has been meticulously identifying, analyzing, and even promoting the selection of Cruz loyalists as delegates to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Many are bound to vote concurrent with their state’s primary results, especially on the first ballot, but many will then be unbound delegates and the Cruz Crew, as well as pro-Cruz and anti-Trump super-PACs are expending as much energy as it takes to insure they’ll be voting for Ted Cruz on later ballots. That is all happening right now and it’s quietly undermined a large delegate lead for the front-runner. Trump has subsequently hired and promoted Paul Manafort, a veteran convention fixer that honed his delegate-wooing skills in the heated July of 1976. But Cruz has had the jumpstart and the more vulnerable Trump looks, the less likely his efforts will be successful this time.
Anti-Trump forces are strong. Governor Scott Walker, Charlie Sykes, the well-funded Our Principles PAC, as well as their colleagues and allies, deserve plenty of credit for defeating Trump in the Badger State. It goes farther than Wisconsin, though. Anti-Trump (#NeverTrump) forces are mostly influential conservative writers, party donors, and elected officials that are wielding such influence as a bulwark against Trumpism. His earned media met its match in research-based, poll-tested ads and grievous self-errors only reinforced well-reasoned, logical cases against his candidacy. There are enough influential conservatives and Republicans to sustain #NeverTrump up to and through a contested convention.
Trump is still losing primaries. Republican voters are still turning out to stop Trump. Most probably know that leads to a contested convention but there are plenty of others that simply think beating Trump means he’s beaten forever and they’re turning out, delivering those losses. They have been since the beginning but Trump benefited from the fractured field. Not so fractured, the results are clear: there are more votes against Trump than for him.
It is a confluence of these factors that make the contested convention the most likely outcome, and render Trump a loser, and not a moment too soon.
The GOP, the Party of Lincoln, was looking like it was prepared to commit suicide.
Trump has already done serious damage lending credence to liberal caterwauling that the GOP has not changed from the racial grievance party it was in 1968, that the years of The Great Communicator could be washed away as justification for racial animus directed at impoverished, urban blacks and conservatism relegated to an ideology to sustain racist and bigoted institutions. This is what Trump has laid bare and defeating that in an open convention will either be the start of a new lease on the future of the GOP or the unveiling of the party’s grisly corpse at its funeral.
The racial politics of our past cannot be forgotten. While we may protest that it was President Johnson who quipped, “I’ll have them niggers voting Democratic for two hundred years” upon signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it was Richard Nixon’s “silent majority” speech that embodied the Southern Strategy of turning out white majorities in the South to check the newfound political power of African-Americans. That it worked, that the Republicans found a way back to majorities in Congress and to the White House, remains a sad chapter in the nation’s modern history.
But we were supposed to have overcome it. Conservatives have spent more than forty years trying to replace the bare naked political machinations of the late sixties with a principled, optimistic, all-encompassing message and agenda to match. Every utterance of something perceived to judge, alienate, or otherwise dismiss the struggles of minority groups is taken as proof that we never have, that we don’t want to escape those embarrassing calls for suppressing the political power of minorities. This work has been hard, buttressed by minority voices eager to defend and promote conservative values that have been regarded in the mainstream as the bastion of backward minds. Their courage and inclusion has been a source of strength and optimism for the movement.
Yet Trump reopened the grievous wound. His campaign of cultural resentment has operated as a vehicle for the most bigoted, racist, misogynist voices in an increasingly insular Republican Party.
When he says he wants to ban all Muslim immigration, it is not even a dog whistle; it’s a bugle call to his followers that the day will soon come when Islam is no longer welcome here. I’ve read it online as “believe in pluralism, except for Islam.” And I was personally selected to lead a disgusting, un-American protest against the construction of a mosque in my hometown in 2012. I refused, and I continue to refuse to support any act that amounts to discrimination against Muslims or any other persons of Faith. Our Constitution doesn’t allow it. And in order for Trump to ban Muslim immigration, or take more drastic steps in the fight against Islam in America, he’d have to change that.
That is what makes Trump, and Trumpism, so frightening. This doesn’t matter to them. The Constitution, that instrument that protects religious liberty — it doesn’t matter. They’d readily trample underfoot the First Amendment if it means feeding into the unrepentant frenzy of rage. This is only one example, but there are many ; even his much-touted border wall requires acts of Congress that are nowhere mentioned in his detailed plan to block remittances. Trumpism is populist resentment perpetuating a budding authoritarianism.
But Trump is his own worst nightmare and creeping into his terror is the well-organized Cruz campaign and his assorted anti-Trumpian cohorts.
At this point, Cuz is all but a lone ranger in Washington (of his own doing) and he’s successfully wresting control from a D.C. Establishment that still doesn’t fully grasp the reckoning that awaits them. Principled grassroots activists, and what I call the New Conservative Establishment — lifelong conservative thinkers, activists, and elected officials — have been laying the groundwork for a people-first agenda that could bankrupt crony capitalists and shutter government largess forever.
Trump, on the other hand, gives the pre-Reagan Old Guard a vision of returning to their rudderless Republican Party of Yesterday, running a personality-based campaign instead of one in which the ideas of the past are replaced by innovative plans for the future. It’s fitting that they appear more comfortable with an unmoored cipher of populist rage than principled, pragmatic conservatives.
To be sure, that is why Ted Cruz was never my first choice for this monumental challenge. He is not quite a member of The New Conservative Establishment. In fact, they don’t trust his instincts. His platform reeks of outdated supply-side economics that is inadequate to the opportunities and challenges of today, though there is a lot to like in his proposal for a simple flat tax. He has never inspired this conservative to fight for converts. He will certainly not be a successful candidate unless he embarks on a worthwhile crusade to include bold conservative ideas that get results for each and every person. His positions on immigration are an anathema, D.O.A. in a general election and there are more personal/image considerations that are nonetheless political liabilities. You might notice I haven’t once mentioned Cruz’s electoral strategy or political appeal….
But a conservative reform agenda that accosts crony capitalism and seeks to close a fawning opportunity gap between the very successful and the less successful has always been a must for the Republicans/conservatives to win the middle class in 2016 and beyond, and Ted Cruz needs to tap into the wellspring of inventive ideas from TEA Party Senator Mike Lee and his colleagues such as Rand Paul and Marco Rubio.
But, therein lies the opportunity before us now.
Ted Cruz is saving the Republican Party. The only way to know if it is worth saving is if conservatives rise to the occasion to define and promulgate an optimistic conservative reform agenda that rises above our divided political landscape to insist that we fix what’s broken, protect what works, and preserve a United States that lives up to its place in history.
It’s time to surrender the politics of the past, to look past not just 1968, but 1980, all the way to our great convention in 1860.
As a nation, we’re currently deadlocked in a two-way battle where one party not only wins, but pours salt in the other’s wounds. The Constitution isn’t meant to allow for every election to be a winner-take-all, majority-rules affair. We have rules. We have institutions that foster debate, entertain competing ideas, resolve differences, and litigate damages. Minority rights are a beautiful concept worth protecting at every cost. It’s a deeply Republican value to treasure and preserve these institutions regardless of how they’re used. Trump doesn’t care, and neither do the progressives that only revere institutions when it suits their agenda.
There are enormous, gargantuan challenges for both sides going forward, battles to win and battles to lose, wars over principles that will demoralize activists on one side and hardly satiate activists on the other. Above all, there is still a nation here — a nation of many people, with different values, different beliefs, different levels of patience, fear, and anger. Above all, we’re all in this great experiment together and it’s time for our politics to reflect that.
There will have to be rules, the written Constitution and the rule of law it enshrines, and there will be principled battles to wage that will make conservatives unpopular, “square”, or worse, but we can withstand the vitriol if we remain committed to principled, results-oriented leadership and policies. We might even be rewarded for such courage from time to time.
That is what conservatism can be, what the Republican Party can be about in 2016. We owe a debt a gratitude to the voters of Wisconsin, and to the staff and volunteers that comprise the Cruz campaign, for giving us this opportunity. But it will be up to us, the conservatives, led by Cruz, to show that #NeverTrump and a #NeverTrump GOP was not just about saving our party, but about seizing a new lease on life for a nation torn asunder by bitter political battles.