Gingrich scolds anti-Trumpers: Any serious Republican will get behind the nominee to beat Hillary

Said this before, but given his role in the 1994 conservative revival in Congress, the eventual Gingrich endorsement of Trump will cause the right much, much more grief than tough-guy opportunist Chris Christie’s has.

He blamed Marco Rubio for some of that mudslinging, saying the Florida senator’s personal attacks on Trump after last Thursday’s debate may have backfired. “I suspect it hurt Rubio,” Gingrich says. “Rubio’s not an attack dog. Chris Christie’s an attack dog. Christie knows how to do that, Rubio doesn’t. And Rubio ends up, I think, looking silly.”

Gingrich also chided Republicans suggesting they won’t get behind Trump should he win the nomination. “I believe when you’re faced with a choice with Clinton corruption, appointing radical judges with a disastrous foreign policy, it’s very hard for any serious Republican to not support the Republican nominee,” he told reporters.

By “serious Republican” I assume he means “serious conservative,” in which case he’s quite wrong. It’s easy for a serious conservative to walk away from a party led by Trump. The problem for anti-Trumpers is that the last eight months, and especially the month of February, were an extended lesson in just how few serious conservatives the party really has. And if all Newt means here is that some of the people crying “Never Trump!” right now will eventually suck it up and vote for him over Hillary in November, well, that’s true. Whatever gaudy numbers the polls show at the moment about a huge minority of Republicans refusing to vote for Trump in the general election will gradually erode under establishment pressure. Most Republican congressmen will fall in line behind Trump, if only because their donors are twisting their arms to do so. (Will there be donors pushing back the other way? Hmmmm.) Attack ads will remind the right repeatedly, for months on end, just how contemptible the Clintons are. Respected party elders, starting with Newt Gingrich, will be enlisted to cajole conservatives to come home. With the exception of Glenn Beck and possibly Mark Levin, the stars of conservative talk radio will align behind the nominee too. That’s a lot of cumulative persuasion. Some group of NeverTrumpers will continue to hold out, led by people like Ben Sasse and (almost inevitably) Mike Lee, but I’d bet on election day the total number who stay home and/or split for a third party is in single digits. People are tribal creatures, and starting a new tribe in the middle of an election is a heavy lift.

Even so, this is bad timing for Newt. Conservatives are still coping with Trump’s impending nomination, a process that will go on for months. Telling them on Super Tuesday, when the votes haven’t even been counted yet, to start thinking about falling in line for him won’t be well received. The next stage of coping comes tonight, when Trump’s win will be spun as not quite as overwhelming as it might have been and therefore Rubio remains kinda sorta viable in Florida. The next stage will come after Florida, when the coping will involve a mix of (a) half-hearted “Rubio can still come back, sort of” spinning of the dour outcome with (b) a push to have Cruz and Rubio (and Kasich) hang around and go to the convention in hopes of denying Trump the nomination in Cleveland. That would wreck the GOP and assure Hillary’s victory, but anti-Trumpers are already prepared to do that per their intentions to vote third-party. And of course, the ultimate coping mechanism is the if-all-else-fails dream of an outsider candidate like Romney swooping in and heroically block Trump from the presidency, either as a third-party candidate or as a, er, late entrant into the primary. Walter Shapiro floats this out-of-the-box idea:

Under this scenario, there would be no more talk of winnowing the field so that Rubio can take on Trump one-to-one. Instead, the goal would be to keep as many delegates as possible out of Trump’s short fingers. In the near term, it would be why John Kasich should be encouraged — rather than scorned — for making a stand in winner-take-all Ohio on March 15.

And if Kasich and Rubio in Florida fail to thump Trump on the 15th, then there would be a strong argument for a late entry by a prominent Republican to run in the June primaries. This would not necessarily be a route to the nomination, but instead part of a crusade to save the Republican Party from a moral rout.

Maybe Romney or Paul Ryan could enter the California primary (filing deadline: March 26) or take on the sputtering carcass of Chris Christie’s deflated ego in New Jersey (filing deadline: April 4).

I’m thinking the Speaker of the House, who’s set to preside over the Republican convention in June, isn’t going to declare war on the presumptive nominee by challenging him himself. And if Romney’s thinking about an independent run this fall, he’d be a fool to jump into the primary and put himself at risk of being blocked in the general election by sore-loser laws.

Speaking of which, Philip Klein wonders whether there’s already an “invisible primary” under way to decide who’ll be the candidate of the anti-Trump conservative third party. There’s a good argument against Romney: He represents better than nearly anyone the “old GOP” that so many voters are rebelling against right now, and of course he accepted Trump’s endorsement in 2012, which makes him an odd leader for anti-Trumpers. If all you’re looking to do with an independent candidacy is give righties a place to park anti-Trump votes, then I agree that there’s no reason to choose Romney. Choose Sasse or Rick Perry or whoever. It’s a protest vote, so it doesn’t much matter who’s formally leading the protest. I do think, though, that Romney would hurt Trump more as a third-partier, partly because he’s so well known from 2012 and partly because his team did a more effective job attacking its opponents that year than any Republican not named “Trump” has done this year. He’s also a practiced debater by now; if he draws enough support to land on the big stage in October, he’d do well. And the media would eat up the storyline of Romney coming out of retirement to try to block Trump, far more than they would care about Perry or Sasse leading an essentially token opposition. Even the symbolism works for Romney among the votes he’s courting: The last nominee produced by a conservative-dominated GOP would be challenging the first nominee of a Trumpist GOP. If you’re a Trump rejectionist, that’s as stark as the choice gets. Romney obviously wouldn’t come anywhere close to winning — he’d finish 20-25 points behind Trump even in a best-case scenario — but I think the ceiling for the anti-Trump share of the vote is several points higher with him than it would be for anyone else. If he jumps in and quickly names a big-name next-gen GOP running mate, say, Nikki Haley if she’s willing to do it (which would be a risk, in running against her party’s nominee), it could get enough buzz among movement conservatives to create real problems for Trump.

But we needn’t concern ourselves with that right now. Third parties are something to think about only after all hope in your party is lost, which won’t happen until … around 10 p.m. tonight, possibly. Oh, by the way: Per ABC, Mike Bloomberg is now all but certain not to run for president. That was predictable once Hillary started beating Bernie Sanders consistently. Bloomberg was always more of a threat to pull votes from centrist Democrats than Republicans. He’s not going to take that risk when Dems are already set to nominate a centrist, with the likely beneficiary of a Bloomberg independent candidacy being Donald Trump.

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