A lot of political and economic theory rests on the idea that people are rational—that at any time, they’re able to identify and take the course of action that would allow them to best achieve their goals. But the GOP elite showed this assumption doesn’t always hold in the real world, which partially explains why predictions that the “Elites Will Stop Trump” didn’t pan out.
At pivotal moments in this campaign, GOP donors, other presidential campaigns, or conservative media outlets might have identified and pursued a more effective strategy to stop Trump. But they didn’t, raising the question of whether they acted irrationally. One example: contributors to Jeb Bush.
Various GOP money men, who presumably didn’t want to see Trump nominated, donated about $150 million to Bush or a Bush-affiliated super PAC. This did not turn out, to put it mildly, to be money well spent. Bush was out of practice—he flubbed a predictable question about the Iraq War (a conflict launched by his brother). When Trump called him “Low Energy Jeb,” he didn’t respond very effectively. But the bigger problem, which elites in and out of the Republican Party were slow to realize, is that Jeb Bush’s policies on issues ranging from immigration to trade were out-of-step with a critical mass of the GOP.
The harbinger, it turns out, was the defeat—also in a Republican primary—of House Speaker-in-waiting Eric Cantor, who lost his seat to an underfunded populist who portrayed Cantor as a tool of big banks and a squish on illegal immigration.