Going into last night’s Republican primaries, one thing that was certain, regardless of the outcome of any specific race, is that as of this morning it would still be true that the Republican Party has been deeply fractured by a race dominated by brash billionaire Donald Trump.
Trump has arguably dragged down the discourse in the debate to new lows, and other candidates, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in particular, have followed him there.
In an interview at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) outside Washington on Friday, Republican Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert said, “It’s just tragic that anybody would enter a Republican race and devolve the race, the debate and the party to the level it’s now devolved. It’s just tragic.”
Others who share Gohmert’s disgust, like Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse have made it clear that they are so appalled by Trump that they will not support him as the GOP nominee, and many conservative pundits and activists have said the same thing.
On Thursday, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney uncorked a blistering attack on Trump, delivering a speech that denounced him as a fraud and a crook, and all but urged the other remaining candidates to collude against the frontrunner in order to force a contested Republican Convention.
But not everyone in the GOP sees the utility of breaking with the Party over Trump.
Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist and founder of Americans for Tax Reform, said he doesn’t support a specific candidate for the nomination. “Everybody’s made a commitment on taxes, everybody’s got a tax plan that’s pretty good,” he said, so he is remaining neutral.
However, he said, he’s dubious about the sudden attacks on Trump and promises to walk away from the Party if he is the nominee – especially coming so late in the game.
“Here’s the odd thing about that,” he said in an interview at CPAC. “If you felt very strongly about this, about who the nominee should be or who it shouldn’t be, where were you in the last year? What were you doing? This is almost like you are putting down a marker, saying, ‘I don’t want to be held responsible for this, or something.”
There is a precedent for the GOP establishment working to undermine an insurgent candidate, he noted, and it didn’t end well for the Party.
“Those who read books, or are old enough to remember, remember that it was the Rockefeller Republicans, it was the Republican governors of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin who stabbed [Barry] Goldwater in the back by going, ‘oh we’re not voting for him.’”
Goldwater, the Republican nominee in 1964, lost in a landslide to the incumbent Lyndon Johnson, and many veteran Republican lawmakers went down with him, further weakening an already feeble minority in the House of Representatives.
Norquist says that he sees parallels in recent threats by elements of the GOP to abandon the Party over Trump.
In the 1960s, he said, “Eastern establishment Republicans – they were the ones always threatening to bolt. If you are going to have a strong party, you can’t have it threaten to fall apart all the time. So, now that the modern conservative movement and the Reagan Republican Party are really 95 percent overlap, why in the world would you ever want to talk about walking out the door?”
All it does, he said, is empower other groups to behave in a similar fashion.
“When you are the majority party, why would you ever get into this ‘We’ll quit, we’ll leave?’ You have the same problem in the House or the Senate saying we’re not voting for this because it’s not perfect,” he said.
If lawmakers and others have a problem with Trump, he said, they ought to be out on the trail with a candidate they do support, making the case for him.
“If you have strong feelings, go out there and work,” he said. “Threats to walk out the door are not constructive, and I don’t think they will have a serious impact…it’s whining; it’s not work.”