WSJ editorial: If Trump can't change his tune by Labor Day, the GOP should write him off

Grassroots #NeverTrumpers can howl at Reince and the RNC all they want and be safely ignored. But when the mouthpiece for the Republican business class starts issuing marching orders?

Now it’s serious.

The latest stories comport with what we also hear from sources close to the Trump campaign. Mr. Trump’s advisers and his family want the candidate to deliver a consistent message making the case for change. They’d like him to be disciplined. They want him to focus on growing the economy and raising incomes and fighting terrorism.

They think he should make the election a referendum on Hillary Clinton, not on himself. And they’d like him to spend a little time each day—a half hour even—studying the issues he’ll need to understand if he becomes President.

Is that so hard? Apparently so…

If [Trump’s supporters] can’t get Mr. Trump to change his act by Labor Day, the GOP will have no choice but to write off the nominee as hopeless and focus on salvaging the Senate and House and other down-ballot races. As for Mr. Trump, he needs to stop blaming everyone else and decide if he wants to behave like someone who wants to be President—or turn the nomination over to Mike Pence.

I continue to believe there’s no way the RNC will pull the plug on Trump before the first debate on September 26th, as that would be interpreted as an informal surrender before Trump’s had his last best chance to get back in the game. But maybe the party can’t wait that long. Per Politico, RNC officials have been whispering to reporters since the convention that the party’s done more financially and organizationally for Trump than it did for Mitt Romney, an obvious attempt to pre-spin the decision to cut Trump loose if and when that becomes necessary. When RNC spokesman Sean Spicer was asked how soon the party might conceivably bail on Trump, he said certainly not until late September at the earliest — which is earlier than the mid-October timeframe he had given in the past. Would the RNC really dump Trump shortly before the debates, knowing that that news would cast a pall over Trump’s big opportunity? They might not have a choice. According to one RNC member, between the start of early voting and the need to use reallocated money to reserve ad time in Senate races, waiting until mid-October to cut Trump loose is unfeasible. If it happens, it’ll need to happen next month to have an impact on the Senate.

See Rich Lowry, though, for three smart counterarguments against dumping Trump. The most familiar one, that they need him onboard to keep fundraising, is actually the weakest, I think. It’s true that rank-and-file Republicans who support Trump will stop donating to the party if they abandon him, but that shortfall could be made up by large donors if they’re onboard with the decision to dump him. There are already news reports out there about mega-rich Republicans fretting that the Senate is in trouble and redirecting their contributions to that end. If Priebus started dialing around and made the case that saving the Senate requires both dumping Trump and receiving a donation for X amount of dollars from each top Republican donor, maybe that would keep the money flowing. The major problem with cutting Trump loose isn’t money. The major problem, as Lowry notes, is morale:

2) If the RNC gives up on Trump, it will be a blow to Trump and he will drop further. The worry is that if he begins to trail Hillary by, say, 12 points, there is going to be no saving down-ballot races regardless.

3) It’s not 1996, when the party managed to pull this off. My understanding is that Bob Dole went along with the strategy to try to save the senate in 1996, meaning he kept doing all the work to boost the party. It’s impossible to imagine Trump having this attitude.

It’s worse than Lowry suggests. Not only would Trump refuse to be a good soldier for the RNC by continuing to fundraise for them after they’ve given up on his race, there’s a nonzero chance he would turn on the party and its Senate candidates before the election and begin actively damaging them. The weak form of him doing that would be pronouncing that the election is hopelessly rigged and therefore the only way to properly protest is to boycott voting in it. That would be Trump’s way of saving face if the outcome looks like a landslide; he and his fans would claim later after the landslide happens that it would have been close if not for their boycott — and meanwhile, Republicans downballot would be wiped out, including possibly in the House depending upon how many Trump fans stayed home. The strong form of him wrecking the party would be publicly blaming the RNC and disloyal Republicans like Ted Cruz for his pitiful polling and encouraging his voters to punish them, either by refusing to vote in downballot races or by actively voting for Democrats. I doubt Trump’s pique at his predicament will get quite that bad but there’s no doubt that this guy will spend most of his energy trying to shift blame for his defeat if/when he finally concludes that the race is lost. As such, considering how much potential damage he could do to congressional races, the RNC really has no choice but to stick with him and keep funneling money into his campaign to keep him happy. He can extort them to whatever extent he likes, which would be a fitting end in a scorpion-and-frog way. Republicans were always going to be stabbed in the back by Trump eventually, either as a candidate or once he’s president, because apart from a few select matters like trade his political views are fluid and situational. They chose to carry him across the river anyway.