Two weeks ago, the RNC acted as enforcers at the Republican national convention to stop the dump-Trump from gaining Rules Committee leverage to oust the presumptive nominee. A fortnight later, ABC News’ Jon Karl reports that the RNC now wants to find a way out from under the man they protected at the presumed last opportunity to replace him. Talk about buyer’s remorse:
Republican officials are exploring how to handle a scenario that would be unthinkable in a normal election year: What would happen if the party’s presidential nominee dropped out?
ABC News has learned that senior party officials are so frustrated — and confused by Donald Trump’s erratic behavior — that they are exploring how to replace him on the ballot if he were to drop out.
The problem with this is that Step One would require Donald Trump to withdraw voluntarily. Anyone see that coming? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? The RNC’s own rules do not provide the national committee with the power to remove a candidate without his or her consent. And there’s good reason for that — the party holds national primaries to get voters to make the decision on who best represents them, and the convention takes place to deal with serious issues resulting from that outcome, whether it be a lack of consensus or other critical problems. That’s the last line of defense against nominating someone who will prove disastrous and who won’t leave when asked.
Of course, this is exactly what a significant number of Republicans tried to do in Cleveland over the last few weeks, only to be blocked by the RNC.
What has the RNC worried now, where they were sanguine before? Trump’s refusal to endorse party leaders has RNC chair Reince Priebus “apoplectic,” not to mention the whole Khan debacle:
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus is “apoplectic” over Donald Trump’s refusal to back House Speaker Paul Ryan or Sen. John McCain, a top Republican source said.
Priebus called several Trump staffers, including campaign manager Paul Manafort, to express his “extreme displeasure” with Trump’s comments, the source with knowledge of the conversations told NBC News.
McCain hasn’t issued much public support for Trump, and there’s a real question as to whether an endorsement might do more damage than good in Arizona anyway. However, Paul Ryan has expressed public support for Trump on a number of occasions, even though it may damage his own standing. On top of that, Ryan and Priebus go back a very long way together in Wisconsin, and ensuring the re-election of a sitting Speaker is a rather big deal to the RNC. Small wonder that Priebus has gone “apoplectic” over Trump’s snub.
On the other hand … this has been Trump’s brand all along. He’s used the “establishment” as a punching bag for more than a year, and the RNC and Ryan certainly qualify as such to the extent the term has any meaning at all. Even Priebus’ delayed-onset apoplexy will likely only serve to boost Trump’s standing among his base, and make him all the more obstinate about staying on the ticket. What would it look like if Trump submitted to the “establishment” and quit in the middle of the general election, allowing them to hand-pick the nominee?
And let’s game that out a bit, too. Assume Trump does withdraw and the RNC elevates Pence to the top slot — probably the only option that they have that sustains the fundraising that has already taken place. Pence inherits a mess of a campaign, which will likely see a mass exodus, and has to restructure the entire organization and its pitch with less than 100 days to go. That might get the GOP a momentary burst of goodwill from the electorate, but they can kiss much of their activist base bye-bye.
Besides, does this chart from RealClearPolitics signal that this is a good time to panic?
Right now, RCP’s aggregation shows Hillary Clinton leading by 4.5 points in head-to-head polling. That’s not great, but she’s in the afterglow of the conventions and getting a transitory bump. The time to pull rank and shove Trump aside would have been in late June or early July … you know … at the convention. And even then, the scenarios that followed would still all have been disastrous.
This sounds more like a shot across the bow of Team Trump from the RNC: Clean it up or we will. If so, it’s still an empty threat — but it’s still a message that the Trump campaign should heed on its merits.