There are so many intriguing twists in this NYT story about behind-the-scenes efforts to stop Trump that you’ll save time by skipping this post and reading it yourself. This is the showstopper, though:
While still hopeful that Mr. Rubio might prevail, Mr. McConnell has begun preparing senators for the prospect of a Trump nomination, assuring them that, if it threatened to harm them in the general election, they could run negative ads about Mr. Trump to create space between him and Republican senators seeking re-election. Mr. McConnell has raised the possibility of treating Mr. Trump’s loss as a given and describing a Republican Senate to voters as a necessary check on a President Hillary Clinton, according to senators at the lunches.
He has reminded colleagues of his own 1996 re-election campaign, when he won comfortably amid President Bill Clinton’s easy re-election. Of Mr. Trump, Mr. McConnell has said, “We’ll drop him like a hot rock,” according to his colleagues.
I don’t know where to begin. For starters, the fact that McConnell thinks Trump losing to Hillary is a given explains a lot about why Republicans got caught so flat-footed by Trump in the primary. It’s not a given. He may lose but he won’t get blown out. If we’ve learned nothing else over the eight years, we’ve learned that there’s no such thing as an easy race for Hillary Clinton. Trump will start the campaign as an underdog with poisonous favorables but he’s superb at staying on offense, as we’ve seen over the past 36 hours — and he’ll have endless attacks to pursue against Hillary to fuel the offensive. His alpha-male shtick may get a long look from centrist Democrats too, especially men who are worried about having a woman commander-in-chief for whatever reason.
Beyond that, let me blow your minds by gently countering some bedrock conservative conventional wisdom: The media will not cut off Trump’s insta-access to their airwaves the day after he clinches the nomination in the name of helping Hillary. The idea that they will is treated as the most elementary fact among righties I know, but there’s nothing the media loves more than a circus and Trump is just one big orange-y circus. Their coverage will turn more skeptical, surely, and he might not get quite the same amount of anytime-day-or-night call-in opportunities that he has now, but you’re kidding yourself if you think Joe Scarborough will turn down a request from the Republican nominee to spend an hour of airtime gladhanding him. Trump is the ultimate shiny object. He delivers ratings. Hillary will need to figure out a way to counter that.
So no, it’s not a given that he’ll lose. But even if it were, how would an incumbent GOP senator whose seat is up benefit from alienating Trump fans by running attack ads against the party’s own nominee? That’s insane. The whole trick in surviving this fall is figuring out a way to get Trumpists and conservatives voting for you. Trump can take care of the former; he’ll call on his supporters to elect a Republican Senate, I hope, on the theory that his own party will be more likely to rubber-stamp his policies than Democrats will. But if a given senator turns on him, those Trumpist votes are lost. Meanwhile, if you hug him too closely then conservatives angry at Trump’s takeover may decide to boycott that Senate race to punish the “traitor.” The way to handle this, I would think, if you’re a senator running for reelection is to endorse Trump, pay lip service to his populist appeal as needed, but reiterate at every opportunity that you’re a conservative. When Trump says something damaging, politely disagree as needed. You may lose anyway but you’ve got a better chance trying to bring the two wings of the party together behind you then by declaring war on Trump.
And one more thing. If McConnell really believes that Trump’s loss is a given then there’s no reason to continue obstructing Obama’s SCOTUS nominee. If either O or Hillary is going to choose the next justice, McConnell should prefer to deal with O for the simple reason that the Senate GOP holds more seats now than they will next year. Send Obama a list of centrist justices who’d be acceptable to the caucus (that would qualify as the “advice” part in “advise and consent”) and, if he chooses one, give him or her a vote. I made that point this past week too about the looming reality that O, Hillary, or Trump will get to fill the new vacancy (how much more likely would Trump be to appoint a Scalia-esque conservative than Obama or Hillary?), but if McConnell thinks Trump has no chance to win realistically then the calculus here is suddenly very simple. Make a deal.
As for the other twists in the story, supposedly Romney dialed up Christie on the night of the South Carolina primary to complain about Trump, which … sounds like it must have been an awkward conversation for Christie, knowing what we know now. Romney was allegedly set to endorse Rubio that night but held off because he wanted to take on Trump directly. Hmmmm. Maybe all that means is that he was planning his attack on Trump over his income tax returns even at the time — but maybe it means more. If Romney doesn’t endorse Rubio this week, before Michigan, I can only assume it’s because he’s thinking seriously of an independent run himself and has turned his energies to that.
Another twist? Allegedly, vindictive egomaniac Chris Christie was very butthurt indeed at a call he got from Rubio after he dropped out:
Mr. Rubio made a tentative overture to Mr. Christie after his withdrawal from the presidential race. He left the governor a voice mail message, assuring Mr. Christie that he had a bright future in public service, according to people who have heard Mr. Christie’s characterization of the message.
Mr. Christie, 53, took the message as deeply disrespectful and patronizing, questioning why “a 44-year-old” was telling him about his future, said people who described his reaction on the condition of anonymity. Further efforts to connect the two never yielded a direct conversation.
“Bright future in public service” coming from a guy who’d obviously value Christie’s endorsement sounds a lot like Rubio was hint-hinting there might be a position in his administration available for Christie. Instead, Christie, who’s all of nine years older than Rubio and has only two more years’ experience than him in statewide office, seems to have received it as if some kid had just tousled his hair and told him to drop a few pounds. Somehow, against all odds, Trump is no longer the most thin-skinned guy associated with his own campaign.
One more truly bizarre twist: Guess which Republican governor said this, just a week ago on Saturday before the South Carolina vote.
At a meeting of Republican governors the next morning, [Governor X] called for action. Seated at a long boardroom table at the Willard Hotel, he erupted in frustration over the state of the 2016 race, saying Mr. Trump’s nomination would deeply wound the Republican Party. [Governor X] urged the governors to draft an open letter “to the people,” disavowing Mr. Trump and his divisive brand of politics.
The letter was never drafted despite Governor X’s best efforts to derail the Trump train. Give up yet? Governor X is … Paul LePage, who endorsed Trump yesterday afternoon. How do you explain that? Did he throw in the towel after Trump’s rout in Nevada or did Trump promise him privately to build a new golf course in Bangor or something? If LePage could shift from Trump enemy to Trump sycophant in 2.3 seconds, how long do you suppose McConnell’s motley crew of Republican senators will hold out? Over/under is April.