As we draw closer and closer to the Iowa Caucuses, signs of desperation are setting in at the GOP establishment ranch. The polls are stubbornly refusing to budge in response to various exhortations on behalf of the more traditional candidates and cold, harsh reality seems to be dawning among observers who long assumed that the Trump Bubble would eventually burst. (They seemed equally certain that Cruz was just a quick fling before the wedding for Republican primary voters.) Now, at the eleventh hour, Michael Gerson takes to the pages of the Washington Post to put out an SOS signal: we must defeat both Cruz and Trump or the Republican Party as we know it is doomed.
Donors, analysts and media are naturally drawn to the horse-race aspect of politics: establishment vs. anti-establishment, insider vs. outsider. But Trump is proposing a massive ideological and moral revision of the Republican Party. Re-created in his image, it would be the anti-immigrant party; the party that blows up the global trading order; the party that undermines the principle of religious liberty; the party that encourages an ethnic basis for American identity and gives strength and momentum to prejudice…
The Republican nominee — for the sake of his party and his conscience — must draw these boundaries clearly.
Ted Cruz is particularly ill-equipped to play this role. He is actually more of a demagogue than an ideologue. So he has changed his views on immigration to compete with Trump — and raised the ante by promising that none of the deported 11 million will ever be allowed back in the country. Instead of demonstrating the humane instincts of his Christian faith — a faith that motivated abolition and the struggle for civil rights — Cruz is presenting the crueler version of a pipe dream.
Gerson goes on to conclude that there remains only one path to salvation.
For Republicans, the only good outcome of Trump vs. Cruz is for both to lose. The future of the party as the carrier of a humane, inclusive conservatism now depends on some viable choice beyond them.
While the author doesn’t drop any names for us, it seems obvious that the White Knight on the horizon would almost certainly have to be Bush, Rubio or Christie. (Is there anyone who still thinks Kasich is viable?) I’m sure Gerson isn’t alone in this thinking. There’s a lot of money sitting out there in the hands of people who are very heavily invested in keeping the status quo as it is. What I think they fail to realize (and this is something we’ve discussed here at length) is that they’re working at crossed purposes with a large segment of their primary voting base. At a quick glance over the latest polls, more than half of the GOP voters around the country are in either the Cruz or Trump camps, and that’s not because they are picking out the most likely path to save the Republican Party. It’s because they are on the verge of simply walking away from the party that Michael Gerson is so earnestly trying to save.
We’re talking about a party that has failed conservatives on too many occasions, with the recent omnibus spending bill only being the freshest set of scars on their hides. Those crowds showing up to cheer on Donald Trump and Ted Cruz seem to have lost interest in counting seats in Congress or jotting down promises which inevitably fail to come true. Fixing what appears to be a hopelessly broken machine isn’t on their agenda. They’re looking to rebuild the machine from the ground up before they decide to put it on on the curb with the rest of the trash.
Before we write too many more soaring essays on what it will take to save the party, perhaps we should first reevaluate precisely what’s in it that’s worth saving.