If the Republican Party wants to stop Donald Trump, they have about three weeks to do it.
I’ve spent this election cycle spending a lot of time arguing that Donald Trump would not be the Republican’s presidential nominee. The argument is logical enough, but bears repeating. Simply put Republican party actors, people like donors and elected officials, have really strong incentives to make sure their party’s nomination goes to strong general election candidate who can be trusted to tout the party line when in office.
And with Trump racking up his third straight win in a row in Nevada on Tuesday night even a Trump skeptic like me has to ask, why have the Republicans failed to take Trump down or rally support around an alternative?
Ezra Klein recently argued over at Vox that the Republican Party has become so dysfunctional it can’t even seem to pick a nominee, one of the most important things American political parties do. As he put it:
…the Republican Party has, for whatever reason, lost its ability to influence its voters. Donald Trump is winning this thing, and so far, Ted Cruz, the only guy elite Republicans hate more than Trump, is vying for second place.
Parties are vehicles for structuring information. Their role is literally to help voters decide by helping them choose whom to trust. The fact that Republican voters seem to prefer candidates whom their party is screaming not to trust reveals a profound failure in the GOP’s core role. The Republican Party is broken.
I certainly think this is possible. And it would go hand in hand with the many kinds of Republican political dysfunction we’ve seen during the Obama years. But hope probably isn’t totally lost for us Trump skeptics, or Republicans who would like to see their party run in a responsible manner for that matter. As Jonathan Bernstein pointed out Republican probably have about three weeks left to stop Trump before his delegate lead becomes increasingly insurmountable. As he put it after Nevada:
The first one Republicans finally did, when party actors broke clearly for Marco Rubio this past week. It seems to be helping a little, since he’s moved up to second place in South Carolina and Nevada. But that’s not enough.
The second part is to take Trump down. A myth has evolved that negative ads don’t work against Trump, but in the two states where they were tried at least to some extent—Iowa and South Carolina—they did seem to have some results. We’re not talking about someone with 70 percent of the vote and an insurmountable lead. Trump should be easy to take on, and given how much money should be available, not every hit needs to be effective for an overall campaign to succeed.
The other side of this coin is pretty obvious however; Trump skeptics like me have been predicting his downfall for quite some time now, yet all he seems to do is win more states. Why is anything likely to be different now?
Well it might be that the old rules of presidential nominations simply to apply anymore. But even if that’s true the political risks are pretty high, especially for those influential Republicans who’ve seem so unwilling to take Trump on so far. As Bernstein aptly summarized:
Well, if they are going to fight hard, the next week to three weeks are the time to do it. If they don’t, they risk losing their party entirely, and for all we know they may never get it back. Republicans in the Senate are fighting hard against allowing Barack Obama to fill a Supreme Court vacancy; Republicans on the campaign trail are allowing a loose cannon who could easily drag down every Republican on the ballot this November.
The stakes seem high enough to finally push Republican leaders into action.
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Photo by Richard Drew/AP