Earlier this week, I wrote that it looks like GOP establishment figures might break for Trump over Ted Cruz. I had previously thought the establishment would migrate from one of the classic establishment governors (Christie, Bush, or Kasich) to Rubio as the first fallback, then Cruz, and then only Trump if he looked to be the inevitable nominee, but I confessed I was wrong:
I keep underestimating establishment distaste for Cruz . . . They echo David Brooks in the belief that he’s a “nakedly ambitious” and “selfish Machiavellian.” They roll their eyes at his anti-establishment assaults, detecting political opportunism where his supporters see principle. They’re convinced that general-election voters would agree, and that if he somehow won the presidency he’d happily discard his constitutional-conservative stances to keep it.
In my piece, I cast this distaste as the product of a good-faith belief. They genuinely believe that Cruz would lead the GOP to a Goldwater-level loss while at the same time believing that Trump could pull enough support from Democrats to win the general election. Now, I’m questioning the good faith. The establishment attack on Ted Cruz is becoming vicious, dangerous, and more than a little petulant. Here’s CNN this afternoon:
Republican Party leaders and prominent senators are sharpening their knives against Ted Cruz, expressing growing alarm over his candidacy as he continues to mount a serious threat in Iowa.
In interviews with CNN, a growing number of Republicans are beginning to echo remarks made by the likes of former Sen. Bob Dole and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, warning that the party would suffer deep losses down the ticket and risk electing a Democratic president if the Texas senator wins the nomination.
This is all consistent with the “we oppose him because he’s unelectable” theory. I don’t agree, but it’s at least a viable argument. Then there’s this:
A large number of GOP senators say Cruz’s divisive tactics, which have included describing his colleagues as part of a corrupt “Washington cartel,” will make it hard — if not impossible — to get behind him if he’s the nominee.
“It would be a major challenge because of the wounds that are deep,” said Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, who is neutral in the race so far.
“An awful lot of us really didn’t like to be targeted as corrupt, establishment bought by the lobby establishment,” Coats added. “It sure looks like someone was using it as a way to gain notoriety as the only true conservative in Washington.” (Emphasis added.)
Assuming CNN’s reporting is accurate, this is sheer crazy talk. Look, I get that senators are people — they have feelings and pride and don’t like to be called names. But talk through the hurt with your spouse or pastor, and then man up, get out there, and make it clear that you’re going to campaign your heart out for the GOP nominee. After years of tough election campaigns, food fights on cable television, and withering attacks on social media, Ted Cruz is the one who broke your spirits?
As of now, it looks like establishment figures (not all of them, certainly) are either outright making their peace with the idea of a Trump nomination or somehow believing that pulling out all the stops to crush Cruz in Iowa will still leave them with enough running room in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and beyond to block Trump with someone else. They’re the seasoned political professionals. I’m not. But to this caveman lawyer, a triumphant Trump looks very, very hard to stop. He’s held yuuuge leads in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and multiple states in the SEC primary to follow. How is winning going to hurt him?
One final note — I remember in 2012 talking to GOP officials who expressed utter contempt for the notion that some conservatives might stay home rather than vote for Mitt Romney. Now, the shoe may well be on the other foot. Will the establishment follow its own counsel and seek the greater good even in the face of dashed dreams and hurt feelings?