On Wednesday morning, half a day after billionaire Donald Trump added three more primary state victories to his tally in the Republican presidential race, panic wafted through the rhetoric of the conservative media.
In an editorial Wednesday morning, the Wall Street Journal concisely outlined the state of play: “Political parties don’t usually nominate someone whom half of their own voters view unfavorably, but that is where the GOP now finds itself. Mr. Trump’s impressive victories in Hawaii, Mississippi and Michigan underscored his unmovable support with at least a third of the GOP electorate across the country.”
Trump has amassed a considerable delegate lead over Texas Sen. Ted Cruz – himself no favorite of the Party establishment – and stands ready to leap even further ahead if he can secure the 99 delegates that will go to the winner of Florida’s primary next Tuesday and the 66 that go to the victor in Ohio.
Trump’s inexorable march toward the GOP nomination had some figures like conservative radio host Erick Erickson calling for swift action to consolidate the party against Trump.
“It is time for the GOP to pick its poison: Trump or Cruz,” he wrote Wednesday morning. Erickson’s choice is, plainly, rejecting Trump. Not only does Cruz stand a better chance of defeating Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, in November. Trump could also have catastrophic effects on down-ballot Republican races.
“So the GOP must choose. They can reject Trump or they can reject Cruz. They cannot reject both at this point,” he wrote. Then, though, he spun out a deeply unlikely scenario in which Cruz and Rubio unite as a unity ticket, with Cruz as president and Rubio as vice president, and “barnstorm” Florida together, with Rubio urging his supporters to throw their votes to Cruz.
“It is the only way now to stop Trump from getting those 99 delegates and it is the only way now to change the trajectory of the race,” he wrote. “It needs to happen by tomorrow. The next twenty-four hours will be the difference between stopping Trump and being seen as rigging the game against Trump. The former is a clean win no one can dispute. The latter will make wounds fester. Decide today.”
Railing against “the mother of all capitulations” in the National Review, Jonah Goldberg fretted that long-time conservatives, who have jumped ship to join the Trump movement, are jettisoning their principles as they hit the water. “Instead of converting voters to conservatism, Trump is succeeding at converting conservatives to statism on everything from health care and entitlements to trade.”
Others are bracing themselves for a figuratively (and perhaps literally) bloody fight at the Republican nominating convention in Cleveland this July.
Writing in Commentary on Tuesday, Noah Rothman bemoaned the thuggishness of the Trump campaign. (After the story was published, Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski reportedly manhandled a female reporter following Trump’s Florida press conference Tuesday evening.) Some conservative commentators have warned that organized resistance to Trump at the nominating convention could lead to violence, but Rothman called on conservatives to resist – even in the face of a violent backlash.
“[R]esistance will falter if the conservative movement’s most influential leaders become paralyzed with fear over the prospect of political violence,” he wrote. “This would be a tragedy of unspeakable proportions. Trumpism cannot be accommodated or incorporated into the GOP. Those Trump supporters who might be moved to violence will not be mollified if only the party took a harder line on free trade or espoused the reformation of the earned income tax credit. A movement that will not tolerate representative proportionality or the horse-trading that occurs at a nominating convention is incompatible with the American system of governance, as we understand it today. One or the other must cease to exist.”
Rothman concluded with a (slightly overwrought) call to arms. “Steel yourselves, conservative pundits. Your conviction and your ideals have not yet begun to be tested. There is a political fight coming, and preemptive submission will not yield you better terms.”
It may not be too late to avoid the need for some sort of Trumperdämmerung at the GOP convention, but Erickson is at least correct that time is running desperately short.