The Republican Party ‘Establishment’ is beside itself. Whether conducting a private island meeting off the coast of Georgia attended by the likes of Karl Rove, Bill Kristol, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and several other GOP members of Congress, or the dusting off, winding up and marching out of Mitt Romney to throw down the gauntlet against the Trump candidacy, the Establishment’s recent actions bespeak desperation.
Accustomed to taking turns at the White House with the Democrat Party, it seems the Establishment either did not recognize, or did not take seriously, the risk that its hold on the GOP might be meaningfully challenged. It attempted to follow the tried and true strategy for success (at the primary stage if not the general election). Just hand pick one of its own with a career in mainstream republican politics and a record of embracing big government, stuff his pockets with millions in campaign contributions, and wait for the money/marketing machine to grind the political bones of the rest of the field. This time it was Jeb Bush’s turn; but there were signs almost immediately that the strategy wasn’t working. With each passing week, the Establishment’s concern must’ve grown more dire. By the time it became apparent that Jeb Bush would not be able to gain ground, the Establishment found itself without a viable champion and facing the reality of massive voter support for an anti-establishment candidate in Donald Trump.
Enter Marco Rubio. Whether Marco Rubio is a ‘dyed in the wool’ establishment Republican is subject to serious question. But it’s clear that the Establishment has now cast it’s lot with Rubio’s campaign. Though not its first choice, Rubio is the candidate the Establishment has determined gives it the best chance of maintaining control of the Party. John Kasich likely fits the mold well, but he was running far behind Rubio when the Establishment was forced to shift its support from Bush to another candidate. Kasich was simply much longer odds than Rubio at the time.
Ted Cruz could never be its candidate, having demonstrated on multiple occasions that he stands on his own principles and won’t play by the Establishment’s rules. Recall for example his highly criticized filibuster against the ACA and his reference on the Senate floor to Mitch McConnell as a liar for paving the way for the reinstitution of the Export-Import Bank. The Establishment’s rejection of Cruz as its candidate has been obvious – his name is roundly omitted by Establishment talking heads as an alternative to the front running anti-establishment candidate Donald Trump, and none in the media or in the Party suggests that Cruz is meaningfully supported by any of the Establishment contingent. And as Trump has eagerly pointed out, until very recently none of Cruz’s fellow senators had endorsed him.
The primary election process has revealed the severity of the Establishment’s problem. Thus far, the popular vote of the four remaining GOP candidates is as follows: Trump: 4,339,971 votes, Cruz: 3,576,646 votes, Rubio: 2,399,505 votes and Kasich: 1,088,865 votes. Counting only the votes cast in favor of these four remaining candidates, the anti-Establishment candidates have commanded 69% of the popular vote against 31% for Rubio and Kasich. Again, whether Rubio is truly an establishment candidate is subject to debate. Assuming for the sake of argument that he is, the anti-Establishment candidates have a near 7 to 3 margin over the establishment candidates at this point in the race. Take Rubio out of the equation and the Establishment fares far worse.
In a recent column, Bruce Bartlett, a former treasury official who self identifies as a Republican despite the fact that he voted for Barack Obama, wrote that he voted for Trump in order to destroy the GOP. “I believe that only when the GOP suffers a massive defeat will it purge itself of the crazies and forces of intolerance that have taken control of it. Then, and only then, can the GOP become a center-right governing party that deserves to occupy the White House. The death of today’s Republican Party is, therefore, necessary to its survival, in my opinion. And Donald Trump can make it happen, which is why I voted for him.”
The popular vote thus far does not support Bartlett’s thesis. The results demonstrate a disdain for the Establishment so severe that a loss by populist Donald Trump in the general election in November may be more likely to give rise to a subsequent movement toward Cruz’s constitutional conservatism or Rand Paul’s libertarianism than a resurgence of the Establishment. Rather than a “center-right”, corporatist, statist Republican in the White House come 2020, Mr. Bartlett might have to be satisfied with a Constitutionalist or Libertarian who believes the Federal government should be a fraction of its present size. Or perhaps the throngs of GOP voters who are obviously sick and tired of the Establishment will just stay home the next presidential election cycle.
Any of these scenarios foretell doom for the Establishment, at least with respect to the presidency. Perhaps it’s time for the Establishment to consider the possibility that the grass roots is simply leaving it behind. An ineffective, if not compliant Congress, both houses of which have been controlled by the Establishment led GOP, has rendered the faithful angry and looking for alternatives. There’s no immediate reason to expect they’ll change their minds and embrace the Establishment so long as it stands for cronyism, corporatism and cooperation with Democrats in continuing the expansion of the Federal government and in ignoring the desires and demands of such a large portion of the Party.