Ed wrote about it earlier but I want to follow up with a request. First, though, here’s NYT reporter Alex Burns listing just a few of the strategic idiocies Trump’s been guilty of over the last two months. He forgot “insulting Heidi Cruz on Twitter” but I don’t think this is meant to be complete:
What if Trump had:
– done real GOTV in IA
– instantly denounced Duke
– not defended rally violence/Fields incident
– run Wis ads 2 weeks ago
— Alex Burns (@alexburnsNYT) March 30, 2016
Add “insisted on upholding the pledge” to that list. That’s my request: Explain to me, please, what Trump gains strategically by abandoning the pledge now. Why would the presumptive nominee, who’ll be asked to lead a bitterly divided party this fall, want to do anything to undermine the idea that all Republicans must put their personal butthurt aside and support the party’s choice in the interest of defeating Hillary Clinton? Marco Rubio’s already grumbled about how hard it’ll be for him to support Trump; Cruz has been backing away from the pledge for days now after The War Of The Wives broke out, although he’s never flatly said that he wouldn’t back Trump as nominee. The obvious move, faced with a brewing insurrection like that, is to try to stamp it out by reminding voters that Cruz and Rubio took an oath not for Trump’s sake but for the good of the Republican Party. Only a united GOP can win in the fall, Trump could say, yet here are two stars of the party prepared to fracture it for the pettiest possible reason, because they’re sore losers. (That’s a distortion of why Cruz and Rubio are anti-Trump but that’s how Trump would frame it.) The script writes itself: “They call me dishonorable and say I’m destroying the party and meanwhile they’re the ones who are breaking a promise and trying to get a Democrat elected!” Voters would be sympathetic to that. There’s a small group of #NeverTrumpers out there but in the end most Republicans will be looking for reasons to support the nominee. They may not be bound by the pledge but the logic of it, that the party must unite, is compelling.
So here’s Trump, the likely beneficiary of the pledge, now essentially saying, “Whatever.” Why? Why legitimize the prospect of anti-Trumpers going their own way in November? I keep thinking of an exasperated Newt Gingrich wondering why Trump would do something as “utterly stupid” as picking a fight with Ted Cruz’s wife. I think Newt knew why, although the answer was too terrible for a Trump fan to acknowledge. Namely, Trump doesn’t always, or even often, think strategically, especially in his public pronouncements. He lets it rip and trusts that the people will rally to him, as they’ve done — or rather, as a minority of the Republican Party has done — for the past nine months. He thought it’d be funny to needle Ted Cruz by retweeting something that insulted his wife’s looks so he did it. Simple as that. I don’t think the thought process in trashing the pledge last night was any more complicated. Cruz had hinted that he wouldn’t support Trump as nominee and Trump’s ego couldn’t bear the thought of Cruz “resigning” before Trump had a chance to “fire” him, so he fired him — even though, strategically, that’s pure insanity. He’d rather see 20 percent of the party stay home in November than go groveling to “Lyin’ Ted” for his support; alphas don’t ask, they command. The quandary for intellectual Trump supporters like Gingrich and Ann Coulter is that they want, and expect, Trump to temper his dumber alpha instincts with basic political good sense of the sort Burns laid out above. But he can’t or won’t do it and they don’t know what to do about it. I think they truly believed that Trump would gradually become a calmer, more cunning political animal than he was in knocking out various Republican opponents. Now it’s dawning on them that he isn’t and probably can’t be. “There is no long game,” writes Jim Geraghty. “He’s winging it.” What now?