Via BuzzFeed, between this and Saturday’s viral video, it’s now crystal clear that this guy is going #NeverTrump. Not today, but soon. I wouldn’t even rule out him doing it tomorrow night in his concession speech. I mentioned this in the Florida post but it’s worth repeating: Rubio’s likely to have a major dilemma on his hands a few months from now. His campaign will end this week; even if he signs on with Cruz, it may be too late to stop Trump. If Trump is the nominee, he’ll have to decide whether to speak out this summer and fall against supporting Trump or to get out of the way and quietly watch as the party goes in whatever direction it’s headed. Clearly he wants to speak out as a matter of conscience. But if he does, he’s putting his political career at risk. If Trump wins, Rubio will be on the outs as a traitor to the new GOP; if Trump loses, Rubio will be blamed for having helped cost the GOP the presidency. Either outcome makes it much harder for him to run for governor in two years, and that was already looking to be a heavy lift given tomorrow night’s likely outcome. If Rubio’s going to be an active #NeverTrumper — and no one in America has been more eloquent for that cause over the past 72 hours than he has — he may have to do it at the price of ever again holding elected office. Is he willing to pay that price? Trumpers may face a reckoning eventually. Rubio will face one more suddenly.
What he says here about a “reckoning” for pro-Trump conservatives is something I hear all the time from righties on social media, incidentally. “We’re making a list!” they cry, naming all of the so-called movement conservatives who have embraced their inner nationalist this year and clambered aboard the Trump train. Fantasies of recriminations against the traitors will keep you warm on those cold, solitary nights in the wilderness, but are they realistic? David Frum warns righties that if they’re thinking Trump will merely “borrow” the GOP this fall and then return it after he loses, they’re delusional:
An anti-Trump bolt [to a third party] will appeal to ideological conservatives, to libertarian leaners, and to the most religiously observant Republicans: what Republican strategist Grover Norquist has called the “leave us alone coalition.” What happens if that coalition does not run strongly in 2016? If it picks up something more like John Anderson’s 1980 6.6 percent of the vote, rather than Ross Perot’s nearly 20 percent? John Anderson ran as a liberal Republican who could not accept Ronald Reagan’s leadership—a group we have not heard much from since 1980. That’s the risk of political tests of strength: Sometimes you lose, and afterward nobody fears you ever again.
A “true conservative” independent race for president may offer anti-Trump Republicans a way to vote their consciences without endorsing Hillary Clinton. But it may also expose “true conservatism” as a smaller factor in U.S. presidential politics than it’s been regarded as since the advent of the Tea Party. And it will leave the instrumentalities of the GOP in the hands of people who were willing to work with Trump, and whose interest post-Trump-defeat will be in adapting his legacy to the future rather than jettisoning it.
“Lending” the Republican Party to Trump for the next six months might mean you never get it back.
Which is why, if he cleans up tomorrow night, you’re going to see an explosion of pieces online like the one Ross Douthat published yesterday urging the RNC to deny Trump the nomination by any means necessary — including a rule change before the convention, if need be, that frees up delegates to vote their conscience. (“A man so transparently unfit for office should not be placed before the American people as a candidate for president under any kind of imprimatur save his own.”) A member of the RNC’s Rules Committee is already circulating a letter suggesting, contra all available evidence, that delegates are not bound on the first ballot and haven’t been in 40 years. The price of stealing the nomination from Trump after he’s supposedly clinched it would be sky high. It would delegitimize the RNC; it would vindicate Trumpists’ criticism that the establishment is corrupt and that the system is rigged; it would certainly doom the GOP’s chances in the general election as millions of Trump fans decide to stay home or vote third-party in protest; and it would effectively disenfranchise the millions of Trumpers who turned out to vote for him throughout the primaries. It very well might destroy the GOP. But hardcore anti-Trumpers have already reached the point where they view that as the lesser of two evils. Better to protect the country by booting him out of the party and into independent never-neverland, even at the cost of an irreparable rupture on the right, than to protect whatever small amount of “integrity” the GOP has left by crowning Trump as the duly elected nominee. The right’s cracking up either way. Why not at least do what’s best for America by denying Trump the advantages he’d gain from a major-party nomination? That’ll be the argument among some #NeverTrumpers if, as I say, Trump romps tomorrow night. How does Rubio feel about that? We may find out sooner than you think.