Conservative insurgency would likely guarantee Clinton win — which might be only way to save the GOP

With Reince Priebus and other GOP “leaders” abasing themselves by lining up behind Donald Trump, a few brave, principled conservatives continue to plot a third-party run.

Or at least, they were three days ago when this story was posted; the way things are going this effort could have collapsed by now:

A band of exasperated Republicans — including 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, a handful of veteran consultants and members of the conservative intelligentsia — is actively plotting to draft an independent presidential candidate who could keep Donald Trump from the White House.

These GOP figures are commissioning private polling, lining up major funding sources­ and courting potential contenders, according to interviews with more than a dozen Republicans involved in the discussions. The effort has been sporadic all spring but has intensified significantly in the 10 days since Trump effectively locked up the Republican nomination.

Those involved concede that an independent campaign at this late stage is probably futile, and they think they have only a couple of weeks to launch a credible bid. But these Republicans — including commentators William Kristol and Erick Erickson and strategists Mike Murphy, Stuart Stevens and Rick Wilson — are so repulsed by the prospect of Trump as commander in chief that they are desperate to take action….

All I can say is, you go, guys.



Ben Sasse and John Kasich were mentioned as possible standard-bearers for this effort. But since the story was posted, Kasich has told them to count him out. And the cattle-like rank and file of his state party have fired a shot across Sasse’s bow to help him get his mind right (hang on a sec… I’m trying to think whether I can plug any more metaphors into that sentence… No… OK, let’s move on…).

The story raises this as an objection:

Further tempering the current talks on the right are fears that an independent conservative candidate could forever be a pariah by splintering the Republican vote and ensuring victory for the Democratic nominee.

But why is that an objection? If you’re a real Republican, and want to save your party from the short-fingered vulgarian, don’t you want him to lose and lose decisively, so that maybe this sort of thing never happens again? (Not that his supporters are susceptible to logic, but they do hate a loser.) Backing a conservative insurgent would seem to be the best way of furthering that result without coming out and voting for She Who Must Not Be Named, which would cause most Republicans’ heads to explode.

That seems to me as good a reason as any to back a third option — if you can get anyone to be the candidate, which remains doubtful…

17 thoughts on “Conservative insurgency would likely guarantee Clinton win — which might be only way to save the GOP

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    How far gone are the GOP cattle who are lining up behind Trump? This far…

    After noting the vote at Nebraska’s state GOP convention to censure Sasse for having principles, Jennifer Rubin adds that “Even more unseemly, the Nebraska convention voted down the following resolution:”

    Be it resolved that the Nebraska Republican Party strongly opposes all degrading remarks toward women, minorities, and other individuals by Republican elected office holders or party officials, including candidates for President of the United States, because such rhetoric tarnishes the GOP’s legacy as the party of Lincoln, alienates millions of Americans, and jeopardizes Republican majorities in the Nebraska Legislature, the United States House of Representatives and United States Senate.

    As Ms. Rubin says, “you wonder if the GOP wants to drive its appeal among female voters down to zero.”

  2. Karen Pearson

    What is the Nebraska convention doing? How much of that kool-aid have they been drinking?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      They’re doing what partisans always do — lining up behind their nominee, no matter what.

      They haven’t realized that this year is different from every other year, and Trump different from every other candidate they’ve ever seen. Apparently, with notable exceptions, they’re not bright enough to see where blind followership takes them this time…

  3. David Carlton

    Brad, Brad–I really don’t get what you’re advocating here. First of all, it’s their party, not yours; a man who chronically prides himself on keeping his skirts clear of partisanship is in no position to lecture anyone on party strategy. Second, there are plenty of legitimate reasons for Republicans to want to hold their party together at all costs. It’s not just about the presidency, after all; it’s about all those downballot races that will determine their ability to translate Republican policy preferences (to which a *very* large proportion of the electorate subscribes) into policy. That’s what parties are about, They recognize something that you persistently fail to do: that politics requires that people join together to get control of the levers of power, as opposed to your dream polity of having us hoi polloi defer to a nonexistent natural aristocracy like we did in the Good Old Days before Jackson. Third, these sorts of discussions are blatant exercises in futility; if a strategy is guaranteed to waste resources in pursuit of an impossible goal, it’s guaranteed not to attract any of those resources from those capable of making the investment.

    Now, needless to say, I’m quite happy to see the Republicans in the fix they’re in (as a pro-Hillary Democrat, we have problems of our own to worry about), and as both a Democrat and a decent, serious political being I find the possibility of a Trump presidency horrifying. But, really, the Republicans are doing the only thing they can conceivably do–accept the will of their voters and try to keep their party together, because they actually do think that having a party that expresses their set of preferences is necessary to the good health of the country. Since I think the same way about the Democrats, I understand that perfectly.

    In any case, it’s not my real worry; my real worry is that the MSM will fall into its old habit of treating the two major parties as offering equally legitimate (and the *only* legitimate) policy options. While it would be nice to have a legitimately and reasonably conservative Republican alternative (as we should have learned in the 1970s and 1980s, Democrats need that discipline), that party doesn’t exist right now–and the reason it does not exist right now goes far beyond Trump.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      “But, really, the Republicans are doing the only thing they can conceivably do–accept the will of their voters and try to keep their party together…”

      Accepting the will of the voters who chose Trump is unconscionable, and should be unthinkable to anyone who cares about the country. Republicans and Democrats (especially Republicans, because this is coming out of their party, making them responsible) should resist that with all their might.

      Doing it to keep their party together is both MORE objectionable morally, and illogical. To place the solidarity of a party ahead of the country (indeed, ahead of the world, given the influence of a POTUS) is outrageous, utterly beyond the pale. Anyone capable of perception should see that Trump is not just another candidate to line up behind, but is a complete departure, a deal breaker. That should be ESPECIALLY true for anyone who actually believes in what the Republican Party supposedly stands for, since Trump doesn’t support those things.

      That’s where it gets illogical. If all that matters is the R after the name, if a party is nothing but a random bunch of people gathered together for expedience in getting elected (both at the top and down-ballot) then the party has NO excuse for continued existence.

      Of course, I object to parties both ways — when they are slavishly, mindlessly ideological, and when they are all about supporting anyone with the right letter after his or her name, without regard to the quality of the candidate.

      Parties can’t win with me. Individual candidates of both parties can, but parties cannot…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Yes! And I just came from celebrating my grandson’s 4th birthday over lunch at Whole Foods. He had pepperoni pizza.

          (His real party will be this weekend — but his real birthday is today.)


      1. David Carlton

        Of course you think this way, because you chronically fail to understand the vital role that parties play in our system. And you do so, I’d suggest, for a bad reason; you basically prefer rule by a “natural aristocracy.” You dream that we’ll be much better off if we elect people of “character” who will engage in high-minded discourse and come to reasonable agreement on the “common good.” That was the dream Madison and Company embodied in our political system–and it fell apart almost immediately. It turned out that Madison and Jefferson’s notion of the “common good” was poles apart from Hamilton’s, and the Madisonian system was incapable of dealing with the conflict. That’s why the 1790s were probably the single nastiest decade in our political history (not even the 1850s excepted), and why the only way out of what could have been a catastrophe was the creation of the first political parties. Parties became even more essential as universal white manhood suffrage became the norm and presidential electors came to be popularly elected. Voters, who in a highly mobile society exploding to the westward had no good way of knowing who the “best men” were, and who in any case had conflicting notions of the good, wanted a government that would carry out *their* vision of the good, and parties were the best means of bringing all of Madison’s veto points into alignment. And they remain essential to making our system work today. Contrary to what you seem to think, the vast majority of politically engaged people understand this, and are either committed partisans or (if they’re self-described “independents”) are virtual partisans, almost always supporting one or the other of the major parties. And why do people support parties? Because (a) they think their party’s policy preferences are right for the country, and (b) they think the other party’s preferences are disastrous for the country. Why would someone who thinks that the US will go to hell in a handbasket if Hillary Clinton is elected want to make that outcome more likely? I feel the same way about Donald Trump, but I’d feel that way about *any* Republican; indeed, the “orthodox” possibilities like, say, Cruz, would have been worse. And in our system there can only be two choices.

        An example: there are principled evangelical Christians like Russell Moore of the SBC who have repudiated Trump as a moral monstrosity (as well he should, we’d both say). But as a recent piece in the NYT points out, the bulk of the religious right are falling into line behind him. Why? Because they’re scared that if they don’t, they’re going to lose their chance at controlling the Supreme Court, which they especially want for the sake of a certain issue near and dear to yourself. Is it “unprincipled” for them to place the defense of the unborn above concerns about the person of the Republican nominee? It’s not *my* principle, but it certainly is a principle, and one that you yourself take very seriously.

        We both agree that Trump would be terrible for the country, and indeed for the world. But lots of Republicans are probably thinking that it won’t be as terrible as the doomsayers predict. Trump has no political experience; he has no advisers who actually know how governance works; and he will inevitably wind up under the control of the permanent government (You’ve seen “Yes Minister”?). His understanding of policy is so juvenile that he’ll have to rely on his party to explain stuff to him when he actually has to run the place, as opposed to the fun stuff of rousing rabble. I frankly regard this as a risk not worth taking; it’s like Lucius Malfoy thinking he could use Voldemort for his own ends, when the opposite turned out to be the case. But then again I’m a Democrat, and actually look forward to a Hillary presidency. I don’t hang out with a lot of Republicans, but those of my friends who do tell me that they consider *anything* better than the continuation of Obama that she’ll represent. I consider this nutso, but it’s not unprincipled.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Thanks so much for sharing at such length, professor! I like this kind of discussion.

          My only objection is that you assert that I “fail to understand.” I understand. I just have a different worldview.

          Some may find it odd to see you, a self-described Clinton Democrat, defending the Republicans from my dismissive observations. I don’t think it odd at all. People who believe in parties — either party, take your pick — are on one end of a spectrum, and I’m on the other. (Still, I think it generous of you to stick up for your Republican brethren; not many partisans would do that — in part because not many of them are as self-aware as you.)

          As to your charge that I prefer a “natural aristocracy.” Well, yeah — if you mean I’d prefer to be ruled by Adams (either one — or for that matter Abigail), Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton and Washington. I would. I infinitely prefer them to Jackson, or a lot of others who followed. Trouble is, they’re not around any more.

          What I want is the best candidate who IS available, or at least the least bad. The lesser of two weevils.

          And I utterly reject any system of thought that holds that the best candidate will always have a certain letter after his or her name. I think that’s absurd, and I can’t imagine how intelligent people convince themselves of that. Sometimes, the Democrat is far better suited; sometimes it’s the Republican. If we had any other viable alternative parties (we don’t; the ones we have are made up of ideologues so extreme they make Dems and Repubs look like the soul of pragmatism), sometimes it would be one of them. It depends on the individual. Ideally, it would be someone with NO party affiliation, but I can’t remember a time in our history when that could be said of the best candidate. More’s the pity.

          You say, “And why do people support parties? Because (a) they think their party’s policy preferences are right for the country, and (b) they think the other party’s preferences are disastrous for the country.”

          And that makes sense to you. It makes sense to other Democrats, and to Republicans as well.

          It makes NO sense to me, because for the life of me I can’t see either party’s platform as a coherent whole that hangs together. I agree with Democrats on some things, and Republicans on others. Sometimes I disagree with both. I don’t buy my positions as a package off a shelf, selected for me by someone else. I consider each issue on its own.

          And you’re right; the abortion issue is important to me. But other issues are important to me as well. And nominating members of the court is a tiny, tiny part of what a president does. Something like 99.999 percent of the time, a POTUS is busy doing other things.

          The starkest difference between the way I think on one hand, and the way you and Republicans and other Democrats think on the other, is that you are capable of thinking. “I feel the same way about Donald Trump, but I’d feel that way about *any* Republican.”

          Donald Trump is qualitatively different from, and drastically worse than, any other Republican who’s ever gotten the party’s nomination. There’s no comparison.

          That’s easy for me to see as a nonpartisan. Fortunately, some partisans who are also Republicans also see it. My goal is for MORE of them to see it.

          I can’t be sanguine about a Trump presidency, imagining some theoretical Sir Humphrey will save us from him (we don’t have that form of government, anyway). Presidents surround themselves with people of their choosing, and the people Trump would choose don’t bear thinking about.

          Maybe I saw “Failsafe” too many times as a kid, but I think it would be extraordinarily dangerous for Donald Trump to be POTUS for as little as five minutes. So I’m going to rail against ANY excuse anyone has to back him, especially a motive I find as bankrupt as party loyalty…

          1. Mark Stewart

            As bad as Trump is; Cruz would have been an even more disruptive force in the White House. At least we are (I pray) past that eventuality.

            Maybe what we need now is an unstable three-party system? Not a parliamentarian system of negotiated governments, but just a third policy/platform option. Maybe that would actually help keep the parties focused on the middle ground – instead of the far fringes as happens now.

            1. Bob Amundson

              Juan J. Linz, Sterling Professor of Political and Social Science at Yule
              University, wrote an essay, THE PERILS OF PRESIDENTIALISM in 1990 (available in several places). Brad, David and Mark may be interested since it seems relevant to this discussion.

              He seems to predict Trumpism: “But what is most striking is that in a presidential system, the legislators, especially when they represent cohesive, disciplined parties that offer clear ideological and political alternatives, can also claim democratic legitimacy. This claim is thrown into high relief when a majority of the legislature represents a political option opposed to the one the president represents. Under such circumstances, who has the stronger claim to speak on behalf of the people: the president or the legislative majority that opposes his policies? Since both derive their power from the votes of the people in a free competition among well-defined alternatives, a conflict is always possible and at times may erupt dramatically. There is no democratic principle on the basis of which it can be resolved, and the mechanisms the constitution might provide are likely to prove too complicated and aridly legalistic to be of much force in the eyes of the electorate. It is therefore no accident that in some such situations in the past, the armed forces were often tempted to intervene as a mediating power. One might argue that the United States has successfully rendered such conflicts “normal” and thus defused them. To explain how American political institutions and practices have achieved this result would exceed the scope of this essay, but it is worth noting that the uniquely diffuse character of American political parties-which, ironically, exasperates many American political scientists and leads them to call for responsible, ideologically disciplined parties-has something to do with it. Unfortunately, the American case seems to be an exception; the development of modem political parties, particularly in socially and ideologically polarized countries, generally exacerbates, rather than moderates, conflicts between the legislative and the executive.”

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                I thought maybe he was at a university that only held classes when other colleges were out for Christmas vacation.

                As for legislative majorities — this assertion is likely to frustrate Dr. Carlton and others, but I see such majorities as incidental, if not accidental, to the “will of the people.”

                Voters vote not for the entire membership of a legislative body, but for individual legislative candidates — at least they do in primaries, since the general election is predetermined for them by the general election. Legislative majorities turn on the outcomes of a very few swing districts. It’s ridiculous to speak of such a majority as an expression of the will of the people, since most people don’t live in such districts. Further, the outcome in each of those few, quirky, swing districts (by which we mean districts in which the party of the winner is not predetermined) is a function of characteristics peculiar to that individual race. Yeah, ripples of partisan feeling moving through the electorate can be a factor among many, but it’s laughable to suggest that is THE cause of an aggregate of outcomes.

                Thus it makes no sense to speak of the “people” CHOOSING divided government. Yep, some people might actually, deliberately say to themselves, “I’m going to vote for the president of Party X, but choose a congressman of Party Y because I’m hoping for a Y majority to act as a check on my chosen president.”

                Set aside the contradiction inherent in electing someone president and simultaneously tying his or her hands from the outset — which undoubtedly SOME might want to do under particular circumstance. My main point is, I would be shocked if as much as 5 percent of the electorate consciously goes through such mental gymnastics.

                But you will read of the people “choosing” divided government because it suits parties and the lazy media to speak of such as though it were real…

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      And as for “a man who chronically prides himself on keeping his skirts clear of partisanship is in no position to lecture anyone on party strategy…”

      I urge partisans to do a certain thing if they want to save their party because I see that, however vainly, as giving me SOME chance of being heard by people so motivated.

      That’s normally a fairly hopeless gesture. But this seems to me a moment in which Republicans should be open to an argument that might not move them normally…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        In other words…

        I couldn’t care less about their party, it can rot as far as I’m concerned. But a serious Republican who DOES care about his party has very powerful reasons to reject Trump…

  4. Phillip

    Also, important to remember that parties have been born, fragmented, and died during the course of American history. The fact that we’ve had “Democratic” and “Republican” parties as the two main parties (even as each one’s identity has changed radically over time in many ways) since 1856 has made us forget that a little bit. Perhaps we are seeing the real fragmentation of the Republican party, an upheaval in the two-party system unknown for a century and a half.

    Some of this may be attributed to the unusual nature of Trump as a candidate himself, but the wave he sits astride will not vanish with his probable defeat this November. The GOP will not go all kumbaya after this election, whether Trump loses narrowly or loses by a “yuge” margin.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      We’ve had these two parties for so long not because of anything special about these two particular parties and their respective, shifting platforms.

      It’s about the binary paradigm. It’s about the fact that we decided some time ago that we had to have a dichotomy. Left and right. Winner and loser. Black and white. American League (boo!) and National League. You get two choices and that’s it. There are only two teams on a football field — there are no players out there wearing a third uniform, or no uniform at all — so why should politics be any different?

      We’ve decided there have to be two parties. It doesn’t much matter how those two parties define themselves, or what they are called. We’re used to Democrat and Republican, so we stick with that.

      Worse — and this is particularly maddening to someone who engages in ideas in the public sphere and despises both options — if you reject one option, tout le monde automatically places you in the opposite category. Because you’re not allowed other options.

      And to digress – yes, my horror of being accused of adhering to Option B when I criticize Option A leads me often to make a point of noting the same problem, or a problem of equal magnitude, with Option B. Hence the “false equivalence” that drives some of you to distraction. Except that it’s not false. I really mean it. It’s just that bringing up the fact may seem forced or out of place to you, no matter how elegantly I try to put it. You Option B folks wish I’d just point out the oh-so-obvious faults of Option A without gratuitously picking on your team. Sorry, but I’ve been conditioned to making a particular point of placing myself outside both camps to avoid confusion.

      To digress from the digression: Interestingly, Option B in this analogy is pretty much always the Democrats. Y’all notice that? It’s usually, if not always, my more liberal interlocutors who complain of the “false equivalence.” I wonder why that is. I have a couple of theories. The first is that, as holier-than-thou as the Republicans can be, it’s Democrats who are more convinced of their own virtue, and of the other sides’ failings. Does that strike you as true? Perhaps not. Here’s my second theory: That Democrats/liberals agree with Republicans/conservatives in seeing the media as liberal, and it particular irks Democrats when they see a media type going out of his way to lay Democrats’ sins alongside those of Republicans. They feel that he’s letting down the side, breaking an unspoken pact. No? Well, offer your own theory.

      You know what? I think I’ll turn this into a separate post, since it refers to important recurring blog themes…

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