The late conservative Republican icon William F. Buckley is said to have carried a keychain inscribed with the phrase, “don’t just do something, stand there.” The humorous reversal of the phrase did double duty for Buckley, as a reminder both of a conservative preference for the status quo and a reminder that rash action and its unintended consequences often wind up making a bad situation worse.
But for longtime Republicans stuck in a party that has been taken over by Donald Trump, the conservative bias toward patience and incrementalism seems to be fading by the hour as calls to throw out the basic rules that have governed how the party picks its presidential nominee or to abandon Trump altogether proliferate.
National Review editor William Kristol, a longtime Trump opponent, describes the billionaire’s candidacy as “hanging by a thread” as a result of weeks of inflammatory statements and a refusal to work with the GOP establishment to bring the party together.
“Trump's ghastly performance over the last couple of weeks has revived the question of an open convention, where delegates would have it in their power, should they choose to exercise it, to nominate any eligible citizen for consideration by the convention and to vote their conscience in a secret ballot,” Kristol writes. “Meanwhile, the announcement of the Better for America group has given some organizational ballast to a possible independent campaign, with ballot access and signature gathering efforts about to get underway.
“Both an open convention and an independent candidacy are long shots. But they are far from hopeless,” he continues, adding, “So, leaders of the Grand Old Party, dig down deep, summon your courage, steel your nerve ... and cut the thread.”
Writing in The Hill, conservative pundit and former George W. Bush administration official Matt Mackowiak argues that it is time for an “intervention” by Republican Party elders, who need to deliver an ultimatum to the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, demanding that he cease personal attacks on Republicans, reform his campaign into a more traditional operation, and help the party raise the funds it needs to compete with the Democrats.
Mackowiak writes, “The intervention pitch is simple:
Donald, you are on track to lose in a landslide, and take the Senate majority and the largest House majority since the Truman era with you.
You have choice to make: Either right the ship, or go it entirely alone. We won't give you a dime. You will have no ground game, no data, no communications, no research and no legal assistance.
Refuse to agree to our demands and we rescind our support and seek to replace you as the GOP nominee.
Agree to the demands but break the agreement, and we will release the agreement and rescind our support.”
In a widely-shared (and profanity laced) Twitter rant, Florida-based Republican consultant Rick Wilson counseled the staff at the Republican National Committee to jump ship now rather than tie their fortunes to the candidate he christened “Cheeto Jesus.”
“History will be so cruel to you,” he wrote. “Your off-the-record sniping and grumbling is no substitute for moral courage. That's so DC. You won't escape the stain. It's like a big, visible ‘No Ragrets’ chest tat that will mark your careers forever. Go public. Man up. Show courage. Say what's in your hearts; he's insane. He's poison. He's doomed. He's killing the Party.”
At this stage in the game, barring some enormous game-changing event, like Hillary Clinton being indicted over her use of a private email server while secretary of state, it’s probably impossible for a conservative alternative candidate to harbor any realistic hope of winning the White House. But for some conservatives, the question has moved beyond the world of politics and into the realm of personal honor.