The Iowa caucuses are under a month away, and the GOP Establishment is in white-knuckle panic that Donald Trump’s candidacy has not imploded. His rather moderate proposal for a temporary time-out on Muslims’ entry into the U.S. has gone the way of its predecessors in actually boosting his numbers. Allegations of sexist misuse of a Yiddish expression have fallen as flat as Trump’s other supposedly fatal gaffes.
The Republican donor class claims pragmatic concerns. If Trump is the nominee, they moan, we’re sure to hand victory to Hillary Clinton. We need to nominate someone who can win, and Trump can’t.
But the Establishment’s real worry is not that Trump might lose to Hillary. What terrifies them is that he might win. Make no mistake: most of those warning of Trump’s adverse impact on Republican prospects would prefer a President Hillary Rodham Clinton and are prepared to help achieve that outcome.
That’s because this is not just a replay of the tiff we’ve seen in the past couple of cycles between Tea Partiers and RINOs. Nor does it mostly concern the hot-button issues of abortion, LGBTQLSMFT “rights,” or even guns.
Rather, this showdown relates to a basket of issues reflecting an irreconcilable divide over whether an “American nation” (a quaint expression most people under the age of 50 have never heard of) even exists—not just as a propositional “creed” but as a real, natural nation with its own history, traditions, and narrowly defined interests. In symbiosis with the entrenched Deep State the money boys will brook no heterodoxy on three interconnected imperatives:
Foreign interventionism: Whether America leads from the front or behind (the parties can sham-fight over that), not a sparrow falleth to earth anywhere but that the Inside-the-DC-Beltway crowd must have the prevailing opinion about it—generously lubricated with rhetoric about democracy, human rights, rule of law, and other invocations of “universal principles.” We don’t concede even the possibility that other powers might have genuine, national interest-based concerns in their own neighborhoods that we’d do well to weigh against our own. Policymakers of both parties are more preoccupied with Ukraine’s border with Russia and with Syria’s border with Turkey (or for that matter, with the South China Sea) than they are with our own country’s border with Mexico. Continued cooperation with jihadists in the name of “fighting terrorism” is a must, as is kowtowing to a grab-bag of foreign regimes that leaven Washington with billions in lobbying dollars.
Immigration: The Democrats’ multiculturalism and lust for an endless inflow of people who will vote for them against the GOP doesn’t match that of Republican big shots’ suicidal hankering for what amounts to open borders. Even Bernie Sanders understands that uncontrolled immigration depresses wages—and for much of that GOP’s corporate sponsors and their stock values, that’s a big plus. In some circles it’s an article of faith that U.S. enterprise and innovation would barely exist if not for bright and eager H-1B indentured workers from the Far East and the Indian Subcontinent. Whether on amnesty for illegal aliens or the prospect of profiling against advocacy of Sharia and the Caliphate, GOP elites are hardly distinguishable from Barack “That’s not who we are” Obama.
Trade: Our trade policy seems deliberately designed to penalize American producers and to favor foreign competitors penetrating our domestic market. Actually, maybe it was. Starting with postwar Germany and Japan, the deal has been: we give you privileged market access, you submit to Washington on all security matters. (Beijing has agreed to the one from Column A but not from Column B.) With the predictability of Charlie Brown kicking the football, each new trade deal is touted as “opening new markets for American goods” and “creating millions of good-paying jobs,” and each with clockwork regularity leads to bigger deficits and lost jobs. Taking time out from their ritual denunciations of Obama’s abuse of his Executive Authority, the “Stupid Party’s” leadership steamrolled blank-check presidential trade authority through Congress.
Trump has stepped over the no-go line in each of these three areas. He has said Crimea is none of our concern (let the Europeans deal with it) and that Russia’s bombing the Islamic State is just fine. His heresies on immigration need no comment. He denounces trade agreements with Mexico and China as the fruit of American negotiators’ ineptitude; the author of The Art of the Deal insists that he could do a better job.
Whether Trump’s policy proposals can garner a win in November 2016 if he is the Republican nominee, whether they can be implemented if he is elected, or whether they would prove successful is not at issue here. What is relevant now is that the GOP Establishment needs hear no more. Taken together, Trump’s deviationism on these three points constitutes an existential threat to their control over the party and (in condominium with the Democrats) the country. In response, at least four options are available to them:
Go scorched earth to block Trump’s nomination. Who knows how many highly paid political operatives have been wracking their brains to no avail trying to figure out what else they can throw at Teflon Don. The lack of an obvious alternative to Trump doesn’t help. At this point, Ted Cruz seems the best-positioned, but the fifth candidates’ debate only accentuated his unacceptable (to the Establishment) move toward the foreign policy realism of Trump and Rand Paul. Marco Rubio, who is “safe” on all three of the issues noted above, has been nailed on amnesty, an attraction for the donors but poison with the base. Establishment faves Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie are moribund. The clock is ticking, and Trump still stands.
Force Trump to go independent. If the Establishment can find a way to rig the nomination mechanics against Trump in either the primaries (difficult) or at the Convention (probably too late), he might still go independent—pledge or no pledge. The party at that point would happily welcome Hillary’s victory in gleeful anticipation of blaming the Republican sacrificial lamb’s defeat on Trump and his boorish followers. This would be the bigwigs’ optimal path, one that hopefully would chastise the rabble for several cycles to come. Unfortunately, it depends on Trump’s decision to pull the ripcord, which his detractors can’t guarantee.
Let Trump be the Republican nominee, help Hillary win. If Trump does walk out of Cleveland the king of all he surveys, many GOP moneybags will refuse to support him. But it might not matter. First, Trump doesn’t need their damn money. Second, more cash won’t improve Hillary’s attractiveness as an uninspiring candidate who long ago lost that “new car” smell. On the other hand, even a lousy Democratic nominee arguably starts with 242 electoral votes of the 270 needed, largely a function of immigration-fed demographic changes in swing states. A little help from ineligible Democratic voters (the courts effectively bar requiring actual proof of citizenship, not just the registrant’s certification) might do the trick.
Let Trump be the nominee, see if he wins. Talk about heresy. Anti-Trumpians could swallow their bile and back him with varying degrees of enthusiasm, much like conservatives grudgingly endorsed “presidents” Dole, McCain, and Romney. The obvious risk is that Trump might win. If that happens, it could be hoped that his presidency would prove such a disaster as to vindicate the wisdom of profligate global meddling, dispel the mirage that we can control foreigners’ access to our country and deport those here illegally, and demonstrate the impracticality of American producers’ recapturing our own domestic market. Then maybe those tricked by Trump’s flim-flammery would throw themselves abjectly at the feet of those who tol’ ya so. Yeah, that’ll happen.
Jim Jatras, a former US diplomat and foreign policy adviser to the Senate GOP leadership, comments on financial and foreign policy topics and on U.S. politics in his publication TheJIM!gram. Tweet him at @JimJatras.