It's foolish to blame Reince Priebus for a schism in the GOP

It’s still far too soon for projections of a lasting, irreparable split in the Republican Party. In every election season we see tempers running well above ambient as supporters of different candidates joust for position and exchange the occasional harsh word. These difference are generally put aside after the convention as the party prepares for the final showdown in the fall. But while I still maintain hope that this will be the case yet again, there is a sizable body of evidence accumulating to suggest that something is different this time and Humpty Dumpty may not be so easily patched together in August. Trump’s supporters are answering repeated polls which indicate that as many as a full third of them may quit the field if he fails to leave Cleveland with the nomination. It remains to be seen how much actual impact the #NeverTrump movement will have on rank and file voters, but if they can influence a number of Republicans which is proportionally anywhere near the bullhorn volume they project in their endless attacks on not only The Donald, but his supporters, we could see significant numbers turning their backs.

If this doomsday scenario does play out it will be an unmitigated disaster for the country as liberals run wild, stacking the Supreme Court for a generation and passing rafts of regulations which drive the economy back into a recession. But whose fault would it be if that came to pass? Are we to blame Trump? Nobody made all those people line up to vote for him. The editors at National Review and other #NeverTrump outlets? If you allow me or any other writer make up your mind for you it doesn’t paint a very pretty picture. So at which doorstep do we lay the blame? At the Washington Post, Dana Milbank thinks he knows the answer… RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.

But Priebus failed to act to stop Trump when he could have, or to coordinate Republicans to clear the field for a mainstream alternative. And now he compounds the damage by sticking with the same moral neutrality and happy talk of GOP unity that allowed the situation to develop.

After the Jan. 14 debate, in which Trump said he would “gladly accept the mantle of anger” and traded charges with Cruz about their constitutional eligibility for the presidency, Priebus tweeted: “It’s clear we’ve got the most well-qualified and diverse field of candidates from any party in history.” …

This all might have turned out differently if Priebus, and other Republicans in positions of responsibility, had turned against Trump sooner. In January, he called the Trump-dominated debates “a good thing for our party.” He said he was “100 percent” sure he could rally the party behind either Trump or Cruz. He has since praised Trump for bringing “millions of new voters to our party.”

It should almost be enough to simply point out who the author of the article is to discount this argument. (Let’s face it… Dana Milbank would be on the attack no matter who the target was, provided they had an “R” after their name.) But he’s not the only one looking askance at Priebus as if this is all somehow his fault. To these people I would direct the question… do you really understand the function of the two parties’ national committees?

The idea that Priebus and “other Republicans in positions of responsibility” (who remain unnamed by Milbank) could have given a few speeches and either convinced Trump to quit or turned his army of supporters against him is worse than a fantasy: it’s delusional. And what resources would they be deploying to do this? Who would pay the costs associated with waging any such campaign? If you think that’s the proper use of RNC funds you seem to have lost grip of your senses.

But even if such a thing were thinkable, is there anyone left with a clear head who could possibly want the RNC engaged in such actions? It’s not the Chairman’s job to pick the winners and losers in advance. Priebus isn’t there to substitute his judgement for that of the Republican voters around the country. His job is to be a referee in a huge brawl with dozens of combatants. Much more to the point, he has to ensure that a national network of operatives and funding exists to be deployed on behalf of the eventual candidate when the shouting is over. If Reince Priebus were to come out any time from last summer up through the end of the convention in Cleveland and declare who the RNC was supporting or who they should eliminate I would be taking to these pages the same day calling for his resignation. And if you disagree, stop and consider how you might feel in 2019 when he (or his successor) decide to knock your guy out of the race early.

Nearly twenty different people either entered this race or tested the waters in a serious fashion. The ones who remain today are there through a combination of people voting for them and their refusal to quit when everyone else did. The RNC didn’t start this war and they are entirely powerless to put an end to it.