Trump: "Let's get to be a little establishment. We've got to get things done folks, OK?"

He’s not going to get fully pregnant, just a little bit pregnant. What’s the harm in that?

“I think they’re warming up. I want to be honest, I have received so many phone calls from people that you would call establishment, from people — generally speaking … conservatives, Republicans — that want to come onto our team,” Trump told reporters in Las Vegas before an appearance at the Outdoor Sportsman Awards…

At an earlier rally, Trump painted himself as a pragmatic dealmaker capable of working with lawmakers, in contrast with Cruz, his top rival in the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses…

“You know what? There’s a point at which: Let’s get to be a little establishment,” Trump told the crowd at the South Point resort and casino. “We’ve got to get things done folks, OK? Believe me, don’t worry. We’re going to make such great deals.”

A fine soundbite for a general election candidate, which I think is the point of him talking like this. He’s not puffing either when he says that establishmentarians are cozying up to him. They are, and some of them aren’t shy about admitting their preference for him over Cruz.

In private, some veteran conservative Republicans have been reaching out to Trump. And Trump himself called the ultimate establishment figure in Washington, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, for a talk late last year.

“If it came down to Trump or Cruz, there is no question I’d vote for Trump,” said former New York mayor and 2008 presidential candidate Rudolph W. Giuliani, who has not endorsed a candidate. “As a party, we’d have a better chance of winning with him, and I think a lot of Republicans look at it that way.”…

“Between Trump and Cruz, it’s not even close,” said Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), a longtime House moderate who has not endorsed a candidate. “Cruz isn’t a good guy, and he’d be impossible as president. People don’t trust him. And regardless of what your concern is with Trump, he’s pragmatic enough to get something done. I also don’t see malice in Trump like I see with Cruz.”…

“With Trump, hey, it’s just a deal,” said Alex Castellanos, a longtime Republican strategist. “The primary’s one deal, that’s done. If he were to be the nominee, the next deal’s a general [election]. You can see him saying, ‘We had to do what we had to do to win the primary, but now’s the general, and we’ve got to beat Hillary.’ You can see him pivot on a dime.

Exactly. Trump is for Trump and he makes no attempt to conceal it. That’s why his endless reversals over the past 15 years don’t damage him the way Romney’s considerably fewer flip-flops did: Trump barely makes a pretense of standing for something beyond his own success. The goal is to win. If muttering about “Mexican rapists” helps him win the primary, okay. If pivoting and presenting himself as a dealmaker who can build a centrist consensus helps him win the general election, okay. If and when he’s president, he’ll figure out whatever he needs to say to “win” at that point. One way he could “win” is by surprising his relatively small base of hardcore fans and signing a comprehensive immigration deal, which would earn him all sorts of Strange New Respect from his critics and signal that he’s capital-s Serious about governing. He’s an opportunist down to his bones. And he’s so confident that he’s going to win the primaries now that he’s not even afraid of lending a bit of credence to Cruz’s attacks that he’s a phony populist who’ll play ball with Mitch McConnell if given the chance. Maybe I will, says Trump. McConnell and Chuck Schumer know much more about how to “get things done” in Washington than Trump does. If you want to make America great again, they’re indispensable aides in that task, right?

Never mind Trump. He can count on his cult of personality to forgive him anything, and the rest of the primary electorate has already priced his opportunism into his stock. The newsy part about the establishment flirtation with him this week is that conventional Republicans do make a pretense of standing for something beyond their own political self-interest. And yet, as Philip Klein says, “they’ve convinced themselves that the party would be better off choosing somebody who represents everything they claim to abhor.” The Paul Ryan wing of the party may detest Cruz personally, but as Klein says, they have more in common ideologically — or claim to — with Cruz than they do with Trump, and yet the soundbites from congressional Republicans this week have almost uniformly signaled a greater openness to Trump than to Cruz. Not only that, but I can’t recall even one of them quoted in the stories I’ve read this week claiming that Trump is a better conservative or Republican than Cruz. What they like about Trump, per Peter King’s quote above, is that he’ll do “deals,” exactly the sort of compromise-for-its-own-sake approach that usually leaves conservative populists spitting at their congressional leadership.

There are only two possible ways to explain the Beltway preference for Trump, says Klein, given how poorly Trump polls in favorability surveys of the general electorate. Either they’d rather lose with Trump than accept a better chance of winning with the dreaded Cruz, or they just don’t care about conservatism as much as they’ve always claimed. (Or both.) So here’s my question to Cruz fans: If Trump wins this primary thanks in part to the “mainstreaming” benefits he’s now receiving from people like Bob Dole and Terry Branstad and various Republican senators, why should any Cruz fan continue to support this party? The point of preferring Cruz (or Rubio) to Trump is that conservatism matters; this week you’ve seen various party chieftains essentially say, “Well, no, it doesn’t matter much.” If that’s where the party is now, then let the rest of the electorate decide between the two non-conservative parties. Trump fans have every right to say they’ll stay home if their guy isn’t nominee because, without him in charge, the GOP doesn’t really represent their interests. The same is true for Cruz fans at this point, no?

Exit question via Klein: Didn’t we spend a good two or three years after the 2012 election hearing from establishment concern trolls that the GOP desperately needs to get right with Latino voters on immigration? Wasn’t that one of the core arguments for the Gang of Eight bill, that the party is finished as a national force if it allows even one more presidential election to happen without reconciling with Hispanics? Did I dream that? Because here we are in 2016 and suddenly those same establishmentarians seem to prefer the candidate in the race who’s utterly destroyed his standing with Latinos with rhetorical bombthrowing on immigration to the guy who’s been mean to poor Mitch McConnell in his floor speeches. We’re left now with this: “Pass amnesty or else we’re dead as a party. Also, take the guy who likes talking about ‘Mexican rapists’ over the other guy.” Huh?

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