By Niyi Akinnaso
The Republican Party, otherwise known as the GOP (Grand Old Party), has hoped that it would be the party’s turn to win the presidency this year, partly because the pendulum of power in Washington has been swinging back and forth between Republicans and Democrats every eight years since President Bill Clinton. That’s why the Republican field had as many as 17 contestants at the beginning of the ongoing primary season.
However, instead of bracing themselves for a showdown with the prospective Democratic nominee in November, Republicans are fighting themselves over their prospective nominee, even after as many as 14 candidates have dropped out of the race. The fight is over Donald Trump. He is in the lead in the delegates count but they don’t want him to emerge as their nominee.
Why? The reasons fall into two classes. Class 1 is the official transcript, that is, what the Republican party leaders publicly say is wrong with a Trump candidacy. Essentially, he is viewed as a political apostate. Here’s how a party leader, Lindsey Graham, himself a dropout from this year’s primaries, put it: “I have doubts about Mr. Trump. I don’t think he’s a Republican, I don’t think he’s a conservative, I think his campaign’s built on xenophobia, race-baiting and religious bigotry. I think he’d be a disaster for our party”.
To be frank, Trump has gone overboard in many instances with his so-called “frank talk”, in which everyone has been condemned one way or the other, from President Obama to the Pope. Besides, he has said so many negative things about Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, women, journalists and just about everybody. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Trump issue is being framed as one of morals, character, propriety, and leadership.
The above reason notwithstanding, the Class 2 reason for dumping Trump is much more fundamental. It is the hidden transcript underlying the stop Trump movement by the Republican party leaders. And it is this: The Republican party is hungry for presidential power, more so when they are currently in control of Congress and have the majority of state governors. Winning the presidency this time round will give them unlimited powers to shape the future of the country for years to come. If nothing else, they will be able to shape the composition of the Supreme Court and reverse a number of Obama’s policies, such as health insurance, nicknamed by Republicans as Obamacare. But they fear that Trump has attracted enough of the electorate’s disfavour to make him lose to the Democratic candidate in November. They would rather have a less controversial candidate, who can win. And that may put them headlong against the voters.
There is an additional reason, hinted at by Graham. Republican leaders fear that they may lose their party completely if Trump gets the nomination. It is further feared that he will be a loose canon, should he go on to win the election. The anti-establishment coalition he has built across the country would spell doom for many a Republican leader. Besides, many legislators, who are up for re-election, may even lose their seat as the Trump anti-establishment forces may drive them away, like the Tea Party once threatened the establishment candidates in many states.
It is understandable, therefore, why Republican leaders would try all possible tricks to deny Trump the nomination. First, he was attacked and called all sorts of names in a press conference by Mitt Romney, a former Republican presidential candidate, in an attempt to dissuade voters from supporting Trump. Some notable Republicans and conservative groups followed suit. Yet, Trump’s votes soared. Then, the Republicans tried a strategy of “fragmentation”. Let the remaining candidates hold their turf in order to deny Trump some votes. Trump still went ahead to wrestle Florida from Marco Rubio, a co-contestant and Florida native, but conceded Ohio to its native and Governor, John Kasich.
Now that Rubio has dropped out, the strategy changed to that of “consolidation” or “unity” behind a single candidate other than Trump. And the lot seems to have fallen on Senator Ted Cruz, who is currently some 262 delegates behind Trump. Cruz, of course, will only be the lesser of two evils as many establishment Republicans hate him.
The ultimate plan is to ensure that Trump, currently with 683 pledged delegates, does not get the 1,237 delegates required to win the nomination at the July Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. In that case, there will be what has been variously described as an “open” “contested”, or “brokered” convention. Typically, in such a convention, there could be up to three or more ballots before a nominee emerges. I have a haunch that the Republican leaders are gunning for a brokered convention in which they will get their own candidate nominated. Needless to say, that will be a disaster for the party.
If a nominee emerges among the contestants on the first ballot, then the convention is only contested as in 1976, when neither Gerald Ford nor Ronald Reagan had enough delegates for an outright win. Ford eventually won the nomination by lobbying hard before and during the convention. However, the convention is brokered if the party establishment has to wage in. In such a case, a candidate may be picked, who may not even have participated in the primaries.The most recent “brokered” convention for Republicans was in 1948, when then New York Governor, Thomas Dewey, was nominated on the third ballot.
Whichever way the Republican party leaders take the stop Trump fight, one thing is certain. The party may not be the same again, even if the party leaders decide later to coalesce around Trump. Already, he has predicted a violent outcome should he be denied the nomination at the convention, especially if he gets there with the highest number of delegates. It may not be physical violence, but a huge protest may ensue that may cause the Republican party the election.
From watching the developments and talking to people in the universities and the media here in the United States, it may be difficult to stop Donald Trump from leading in delegates to the convention, especially since a number of forthcoming primaries are winner-take-all elections. Indeed, I predict that by the end of today, Tuesday, Trump may have won all 58 delegates in the border state of Arizona, where he is leading in the polls, because of his perceived tough stance on immigration.
All considered, it would appear that it is the Republican party, and not Trump, that is responsible for the present situation. For so long, the party has neglected quite a sizable electorate, including non-college graduates, who are left behind in the old job market but cannot fit into the new digital job market replacing it, and millennials, who are trained for the digital market but are as anti-establishment as the non-college graduates. These are the typical Trump voters. Furthermore, the Republican party leaders have inadvertently trained the party members to be anti-establishment by their stiff opposition to President Obama and his policies. It just happens that they are now the target of anti-establishment sentiment by members of their own party.
Besides, Trump has been able to talk straight about issues on the campaign trail, such as immigration and trade, in ways that the establishment Republicans can’t.
The problem with many a Trump supporter, though, is that they know very little about the intricacies of governance. They seem to be carried away by Trump’s talkamania, without realising that he may not be able to do most of what he promises, if voted to power.
And there lies the lesson for would-be politicians: What do you say to voters to make them vote for you? You may learn from Trump but don’t talk like him by running down everybody who does not support you.
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