The problem with Reince using this as leverage to get Trump to do better is that the time might be coming, sooner than anyone thought, when the RNC will have to cut bait on the presidential race even if Trump does start pushing a more disciplined message. Imagine what the final month of rallies would look like if that happened. “They told me, ‘Do it our way and we’ll support you to the end.’ It was a threat! But I did it there way in the name of unity, because we need to make America great again. And now they stabbed me in the back!” There’s a nonzero chance that the RNC will get the worst of all worlds down the stretch this fall — Trump as a fatally wounded nominee and millions of angry Trumpers resolving to never again vote for the party in downballot races because the GOP didn’t support their leader to the hilt. How ironic would that be? Reince protected Trump at the convention because he wanted to keep Trump fans inside the tent, even if that meant a likely loss in the presidential race. Now, for his trouble, he might get a loss and mass defections.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told Donald Trump in a phone call last week that if he doesn’t turn his flailing campaign around, the national party may shift its focus from his candidacy to down-ballot races, according to two GOP officials briefed on the exchange.
The officials said Priebus described to Trump internal party polls that show his campaign headed in the wrong direction. Priebus told Trump that he would have been better off had he spent the days since the Republican convention at his Mar-a-Lago Club, officials said…
With the party seeing record numbers of ticket-splitting voters in its internal and public polls, the GOP is facing a decision about whether to prioritize outreach to those voters who would never vote for Trump but remain open to supporting its Senate and House candidates. The end result could be the party expending resources to turn out voters who will vote for Hillary Clinton but also back Republican Senate incumbents like Marco Rubio in Florida or Rob Portman in Ohio.
Explaining why he might have to cut Trump loose for the good of the party, Priebus allegedly reminded him that he’s the chairman of the Republican Party, not the chairman of the Trump campaign. Uh, he is the chairman of the Trump campaign, sort of. And where was this “for the good of the party” logic three weeks ago, when Mike Lee and company were trying to free delegates to vote their consciences? Like Jonathan Last says, if you’re considering pulling the plug on Trump at any point, the sooner you do it, the better. That’ll give Trump fans extra time to get over their hard feelings before Election Day and it’ll give Republican candidates time to refashion their message as anti-Clinton and anti-Trump. Conversely, if you’re deathly afraid of alienating Trumpers by pulling the plug, then you’re stuck with Trump to the bitter end this year. Reince thinks he has leverage over Trump but it’s really the opposite: Once the plug is pulled, Trump could spend the rest of the campaign and then the next four years in the media attacking the GOP leadership as corrupt, having effectively “rigged the system” for Hillary by cutting off his financial and organizational support. If I were Trump, I would have called Priebus’s bluff. Take my money away, I would have told him, and I’ll take your voters away in 2018. Or at least enough of them to paint the map blue.
Last has a different theory, though: The RNC is stuck protecting its sunk costs.
If Trump were any other figure, Republicans party elites would be making cold-blooded calculations about pulling the plug.
But because Trump commands a sub-rational cult of personality, Republicans seem committed to sticking with him, no matter the embarrassment, no matter that cost. And the real perversity is that they seem to be doing it not because they like Trump but because they hate him.
It’s almost as if Republicans who caved to Trump now feel compelled to stick with him now as a way to justify their earlier mistake: We’re going to prove to you how not-craven we were, even if it means wrecking the party.
There’s something to that. Every major player in the party who’s bought into Trumpmania, reluctantly or not, will be spinning their reasons for having done so so if/when he loses. For Joe Scarborough, it’ll mean denying that he bought in at all. For Sean Hannity, it’ll mean deflecting blame back at Trump’s right-wing critics for his loss. For the RNC, it’ll be “we had to do what Trump’s voters wanted, no matter how ill-fated that seemed.” The RNC has the strongest case of the three — democracy trumps all, right? — but ironically the RNC is the only one that’s likely to suffer any consequences. Hannity will still have his grassroots fans following him to the next right-wing fad, Scarborough’s show will still be the darling of professional political media, but the RNC will be the lightning rod for millions of angry Republican armchair quarterbacks. Why didn’t they cut Trump loose sooner? Why didn’t they dump him at the convention? Why didn’t they do something during the primaries? You’re going to have people both pro-Trump and anti- quitting the party in disgust over the RNC’s role in a Trump defeat, either because they supposedly didn’t do enough to help him or they did too much. That being so, it’s beyond weird that Priebus thinks he’s in a position to dictate terms to Trump at this point. Which might be the strongest evidence that Trump’s telling the truth and the conversation never happened.
Since we’re on the subject of money, though, and who’s spending what on whom, your exit question via Drew McCoy:
Trump took in $90 million last month. Where's it gone? Still no ads up. No field offices.
Where's the money?
— Drew McCoy (@_Drew_McCoy_) August 11, 2016
Where is it?