For the last eight months or so, a significant portion of the Republican party’s voters have been in thrall to a bizarre, Occupy-esque conspiracy theory, which holds as its central thesis that sabotage and pusillanimity are the root causes of the Right’s recent woes. In this mistaken view, the conservative movement’s failure to counter all of the Obama era’s excesses is not the product of the crucial democratic and structural factors that prevent any one faction from ushering in substantial change, but of a lack of will or desire. Sure, the advocates of this view will concede, the shutdown of 2013 was doomed from the start, in large part because the public sided with President Obama. But if the GOP had just held out a little longer, they imagine, the “power of the purse” would have prevailed and the popular dynamics would magically have shifted. The same insistence obtains elsewhere: Sure, there is no precedent in which a second-term president willingly repeals his centerpiece legislative achievements simply because the legislature has elected to play hardball with its powers. But somehow, the critics believe, this time would have been different. Why, they ask repeatedly, didn’t the Republican party just “fight” harder?
Given how broadly this opinion is held, one would have expected the 2016 primary season to reveal a penchant for purity that redounded to the favor of a candidate such as Ted Cruz. And yet, oddly enough, quite the opposite has happened thus far. Led by Donald Trump, the most frustrated voters have instead put their efforts behind a well-telegraphed attempt to burn down the whole political edifice and reconstruct it from scratch. Because it has been imperfect, the GOP must be destroyed.
And if that should happen? Well, suffice it to say that it would be an unmitigated, unalloyed, potentially unsalvageable disaster. For the first time in years, the Right’s defenses would be completely destroyed, perhaps never to be rebuilt. Swiftly, the courts would be packed with ideologues; immediately, Congress would run through the remaining items on the Obama-Clinton laundry list; before the voters had a chance to stop them, the White House would usher in an irreversible amnesty; and, Trump having been turned into a pariah by a hostile press, his “anti-PC” attitude would be rendered toxic in perpetuity. The likely result of Trump’s selection as the Republican nominee, in other words, would be the entrenchment of all that his supporters claim vehemently to hate. That thrill that his acolytes would feel when they saw Trump named the winner of the primaries? It’d be gone in a matter of minutes.
Tomorrow night, as they stand on either side of Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz must find their resolve and all-but-machine-gun the man to the floor.
Incidentally, when I say “everything,” I really do mean everything. Tomorrow night, as they stand on either side of Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz must find their resolve and all-but-machine-gun the man to the floor. Without breaks for water or silence for applause, they must explain that Trump is an entitled mess whose business record is so questionable that he managed to bankrupt a casino; that he is an unashamed fraud who didn’t even wait to be elected president before folding on Planned Parenthood and Obamacare, exactly like the “feckless” Congress he is running against; that he is feigning religiosity to appeal to people he believes are rubes; and, above all, that whatever he may be pretending now, he has spent a lifetime screwing the little guy. They must repeat verbatim his previous words on amnesty; they must outline in detail how his policies will make life worse for everyone; and they must point out that a Trump nomination designed to “mix things up” will result, eventually, in more of the same.
In the meantime, conservatives who are not running for president must ensure that every spare dollar is spent attacking Trump. Melt down the fences if you have to; we need long-range bombers here. If Donald Trump can flood the airwaves with his nonsense, his opponents can counter it incessantly. And while they are at it, they can tie him up in court, just as he’s trying to do to Cruz. There are a good number of “just asking” questions ready to be put to them, among them “Trump’s mother was Scottish, can he really be president?” and “Trump ran a host of scams designed to rip off the poor; surely one of them would like to sue him?” Thus far, part of Trump’s media strategy has been to say something outrageous and then to move on before it can be rebutted or fact-checked. Why are his rivals not doing the same thing to him? Why, moreover, are the men in charge of the big guns all-but flirting with the snipers on the other side?Noah Rothman is correct when he proposes that this primary season is not yet over, and both Jonathan Bernstein and David Wasserman are correct when they identify a few scenarios in which Trump could still lose the nomination. But such analyses do little to explain what would need to happen in the background for those remaining paths to become navigable. As of today, that answer is clear: The anti-Trump forces that still make up the majority of the Republican coalition must begin an expedited Manhattan Project, the sole aim of which is to bring down the front-runner piece by unpleasant piece. “If not us, who?” Ronald Reagan asked in the heat of the 1981 budget battle. “If not now, when?” Time to go nuclear, chaps.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.