Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Opinion

Buying into Trump won't bring GOP unity

Whether in domestic or international politics, those who self-label as "realists" often are anything but. In presidential politics, those on the right lecturing their fellow conservatives to "recognize reality" in getting on the Donald Trump bandwagon are themselves in fantasyland.

The first canard is that unity is possible under the Trump banner. Trump's nomination has begun the process of tearing apart the Republican Party, which, depending on your viewpoint, can be a positive or a negative thing. One thing is certain, however: Trump is no more able to display fidelity to conservative principles for more than 24 minutes, let alone 24 hours, than he is able to stay away from Twitter. In almost comical fashion, Trump announced his position on guns in schools:

"I don't want to have guns in classrooms although in some cases teachers should have guns in classrooms, frankly, because teachers are, you know, things that are going on in our schools are unbelievable, you look at some of our schools, unbelievable what's going on — but I'm not advocating guns in classrooms, but remember, in some cases, and a lot of people have made this case, teachers should be able to have guns, trained teachers should be able to have guns in classrooms."

Got that? There are some conscientious voters who refuse to accept someone so obviously bereft of substance and core beliefs. Buying into Trump will not bring "unity," but rather, bitter strife within the GOP between those willing to sacrifice intellectual honesty and long-held principles and those who refuse to do so.

Furthermore, Trump is hugely vulnerable for many reasons, not the least of which is his refusal to turn over his tax returns after promising to do so. The Washington Post reports, "Six in 10 independents believe Trump should release his taxes, and almost all of them say they feel strongly about it. Even 44 percent of Republicans want the billionaire businessman to release his returns before the November election, though they are less passionate." Now that we know he paid zero tax in at least a couple of years, interest in his recent returns will only heighten. Hillary Clinton has already gone on offense, making a very persuasive argument: "If you've got someone running for president who is afraid to release his tax returns because it will expose the fact that he pays no federal income tax, that's a big problem."

Fear of a major bombshell is one of several factors still driving the effort to find a third candidate. Bill Kristol, who is front and center in the third-candidate search, queries, "Who knows what Trump's tax returns will show? And can he sustain a posture of not releasing them?" He explains, "A good independent candidate is worth supporting in his own right, as an alternative to Trump and Clinton. But it's also worth having someone else on the ballot in the event of a Trump implosion."

In a very immediate sense, Trump's refusal to release his returns may lead to a chaotic convention or even a standoff if delegates recognize they have an obligation to protect the party from a blowup. "If Donald Trump doesn't release his returns before the Republican convention, people have every reason to believe they will leak afterwards," says veteran conservative columnist and prominent #NeverTrump supporter Quin Hillyer. "If there is a bombshell in there, and there's no third candidate, it would hand the White House to Clinton or (Bernie) Sanders. A third candidate provides a desperately needed way out of that disaster." Other conservatives have suggested abstaining in the balloting until Trump turns over his tax records.

A Trump implosion is certainly possible at many junctures and over many reasons. It is entirely possible he stays relatively close to Clinton in the polls until the presidential debates, when the shtick he used to bully Republican opponents does not work and, in fact, reinforces the image of an ignorant bully. Republicans had better pray there is a competent and electable center-right candidate on the stage who can seize the opening when Trump says something as to shake all but his hard-core fans.

Trump likes to say he got more primary votes than any other candidate (more than 11 million), but a record number voted against him (14.5 million-plus). Clinton will surpass 13 million soon. Trump will need more than 60 million to win the presidency. In an electorate with a shrinking percentage of white males (his base), that is a daunting challenge even for a candidate without serious issues.

In short, the realists on the right are those who recognize that Trump is not only unacceptable but also unelectable. It's the Trumpkins who are whistling through the graveyard of the GOP. —Washington Post

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