The GOP Establishment is in such a state of apoplectic panic over the rogue candidacy of real estate developer Donald J. Trump that on Thursday they sent out its feckless failed nominee Mitt Romney (who four years previous fulsomely praised Trump on jobs and trade) to verbally assassinate the party's own frontrunner. Even more dramatic, should Florida Senator Marco Rubio lose Florida's winner-take-all primary come March 15, some of these insiders are actually urging a vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton.
This is welcome relief to Mrs. Clinton, who is keenly aware of the "yuge" numbers of new, often Democrat, voters turning out for Mr. Trump. She is also aware of the lower turnout numbers she and fellow "Democrat" Bernie Sanders - who prepared the ground for Clinton's far-left populist turn - are garnering this primary season.
Senator Clinton, however, should also be cognizant of one disturbingly persistent electoral fact. Even if a fair number of traditional GOP conservatives abandon Mr. Trump - mainly on the basis of the billionaire's mercurial temperament, intemperate rhetoric, and glaring ignorance of policy details - in favor of her or a third party or write-in alternative, this may not be enough to deny Trump a general election triumph.
Savvy Democratic insiders are thus worried that Mrs. Clinton will not only fail to win Obama's "third term," but, should Trump protectionist fever sweep up Democratic working class voters in the paper mill towns of northern Wisconsin, Minnesota's Iron Range, and in the rest of the NAFTA-hating Upper Midwest, she could become road kill in a GOP electoral landslide ala Nixon over McGovern in 1972 and Reagan over Mondale in 1984. It is no wonder that Bernie Sanders polls far better than Clinton against not only Trump, but against all potential GOP nominees: the Socialist Vermont Senator also opposed the global free trade deals that hurt Rust Belt workers the most.
To that end, Mr. Trump has achieved what the GOP has agonized about achieving for decades: a bigger and broader tent of voters that cuts across lines of race, ethnicity, geographic, party, age, sex, and, yes, education level and income. He reminded the party of just that fact in his victory speech at Mar-A-Lago Tuesday night and again in a tweet on Thursday @realDonaldTrump: "Because of me, the Republican Party has taken in millions of new voters, a record. If they are not careful, they will all leave. Sad!"
Should the GOP Establishment orchestrate a coup against Trump either by successfully ganging up on him now and/or by jerry-rigging an un-democratic result at the July convention in Cleveland, they would lose those new Trump voters for decades.
This inescapable fact does not seem to bother Establishment types, so deep is their venom towards the prohibitive front-runner. They don't care about the broad Trump coalition. They see the uncontrollable Trump as a gauche, "insane" traitor to the "bi-partisan" Ruling Class, a megalomaniacal Kurtz out there in the political hinterlands, commiserating with the serfs, Know-Nothings and untouchables who should be taking orders from central oligarchy command.
Moreover, they are frustrated that Trump can't be bought. Outside of a small percentage of small donors (the spirit of which comic John Oliver incisively questioned), Trump is "self-funding" his campaign. They also don't like that Trump is a political outsider, who takes devilish delight in prodding, poking and disgracing the Establishment for its grotesque failures on trade, wages, Iraq, ISIS, and at the border, where it cynically opposes real solutions, lest it alienate its Chamber of Commerce donors, who feed at the low-wage, easily manipulated illegal immigrant trough.
They especially don't like the Libertarian streak in Trump, who initially equivocated on whether he would give priority to Israel in Mideast negotiations (rabidly pro-Israel billionaires like Sheldon Adelson are huge GOP donors who can single-handedly control any candidate of their choosing), and who openly opposes the regime-change wars of recent Establishment vintage.
Finally, they are outraged by the way that Trump has grown the GOP electorate. He has certainly not followed the playbook that GOP elites outlined in their 2012 electoral post-mortem, entitled Growth and Opportunity Project, which called for candidates to take moderate positions on illegal immigration to attract Latino conservatives.
Instead, Trump has grown the tent in his indubitable shock jock, reality star way, with politically incorrect, if at times hilarious, chutzpah that's captivated a new crop of GOP under-40 voters raised on the politically incorrect charms of South Park and Family Guy, and the faux barbarities of WWE's "Ravishing" Rick Rude, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, Howard Stern and The Jerry Springer Show. These voters implicitly get Trump's crude ad hominems, deliberate provocations, and signature, if at times ironic, braggadocio.
However, what most galls the Establishment's obsequious toadies, Machiavellian careerists, and patronizing gatekeepers - not to mention its corporate media suck-ups who would sell their first-born for a slot on Meet the Press or mention in the Politico Playbook - is that, in expanding the tent, Trump has drawn out of the shadows the far-right fringe of the party that the GOP Establishment would like to keep hidden like some crazy dirt-eating Uncle.
This John Birch, citizen militia, and, yes, KKK element of the GOP, is, in electoral terms, tiny. However, the rural and suburban nativists and college-educated nationalists on the outer circles of this core are more numerous than the mainstream GOP wants to publicly acknowledge. No precise figures can be put on its size. However, it's possible that with the support of this suddenly activated populist wing, combined with Trump's enduring appeal to moderate Tea Party members, evangelicals, "country club Republicans," Libertarians, frat boys, and working class union members, that Trump could accrue an unheard of 63% of the overall white vote come November (Romney got 59% in 2012).
As confirmed by U.S. News, this would be more than enough to give Trump the election - based on critical blue collar, Caucasian-strong swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina and New Hampshire - even if the Democratic nominee picks up all the other states that Obama won in 2012. This would occur even if the Democratic nominee manages to capture an unprecedented 85% of the Latino vote (which seems likely, given Mr. Trump's loosely conceived comments about illegal immigrants), 90% of the Muslim vote (which seems likely given Mr. Trump's call for a temporary Muslim immigration ban), over 75% of the Asian vote (beating Obama's 2012 numbers), and at least 85% of the black vote (which seems likely, given Mrs. Clinton's popularity with African-Americans, and an expected Obama speaking tour on Clinton's behalf come Fall).
U.S. News concluded that even if Mitt Romney won a whopping 70% of the Hispanic vote in 2012, he still would not have won the election because Hispanics represented only 7% of voters. With non-Hispanic whites at 62.6% of the U.S. adult population, their votes "Trump" every other racial or ethnic group in the country.
Those are sobering facts to contemplate for an Establishment GOP that has repeatedly proffered the lie that courting Latino voters is the best path to general election victory. Moreover, these numbers don't even consider that Trump could lose a few industrial states and still win the Presidency because of his across-the-board support in his home state of New York, which he has suddenly put into general election play.
The Roper Center concludes that 5-10 million potential white GOP voters stayed home in 2012 because they didn't feel that Outsourcer-in-Chief Mitt Romney represented their economic interests. U.S. News notes that if white voters had merely voted at the same rate they did in 2004, Romney would have won in 2012, even with the minority demographic headwinds against him.
Faced with this distinctly possible electoral result, the GOP Establishment has now collectively agreed that Lindsey Graham's strategy of "Anybody but Trump" must be their unflinching rallying cry (hashtag #NeverTrump). As I noted in my previous column, "Comparing Trump to Hitler is Worst Kind of Hate Speech,"the Establishment has framed its anti-Trump movement in dangerously apocalyptic terms, and have thereby borrowed straight from the liberal racialist playbook.
Never mind that President Obama failed to call out the anti-Semitic remarks of his own pastor (Reverend Jeremiah "Goddamn America" Wright) or the anti-gay remarks of many of the black pastors and professional black athletes that vociferously backed him, or that Hillary Clinton herself used race as a wedge issue in winning blue-collar working class white voters versus Obama in 2008, Trump is being held to a higher standard. Not because the GOP Establishment cares so much about people of color and the racial profiling that still occurs in many parts of America, but because their raison d'etre - for every global conflict there must be a U.S. military solution - is under threat. If deploying the race card allows them to destroy their neo-isolationist front-runner, they are ready to lose a general election, but live to fight another day on their neoconservative terms.
The litmus test of their desperate, last-ditch, divide-and-conquer strategy has now arrived with the run-up to the March 15 Florida primary. During the next ten days, the GOP Establishment will unload the mother of all attack ad blitzes on the GOP frontrunner. Expect to hear even more distorted or outright fallacious stories about Trump's hiring of illegal aliens over three decades go (which Trump has explained ad nauseam), the ill-fated Trump University (which, as a former Forbes education columnist, I can assure you is a bit more shaky terrain for the billionaire), and his ostensible failure to give full-throttle disavowals of the egregious David Duke (whom I once interviewed for Playboy) and the KKK, even though Trump has done so (however dispassionately) on several occasions, including at Thursday night's Fox News Debate in Detroit.
It is not enough, however, that the Establishment merely destroys or severely damages Mr. Trump. They need a Trump alternative. And that's where the GOP Establishment rubber has so far hit a rocky voter road.
The anti-Trump voter is not particularly sold on any one of the Establishment or quasi-Establishment alternatives. For instance, there is previous Establishment bogeyman, the nauseatingly pious and obstreperous Texas Senator Ted Cruz, about whom darkly hilarious South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said, "If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you."
Though Cruz is precisely the win-at-all-costs nihilist debater type I excoriate in my documentary Master Debaters, and as Dr. Ben Carson can confirm, he is also the perfect Establishment candidate because backing him would show that the GOP is at least partially listening to its fed-up base. The redemption narrative would be clear. Cruz is the prodigal son, another hyphenate American, and part Canadian to boot, passionately proclaiming his freedom from Establishment influence, though happy to take their money (including secret loans from Goldman Sachs). Ted Cruz will be gradually bought back into the Establishment fold, with feigned public resistance, but little private compunction.
Unfortunately, Ted Cruz has won only four states. And should he lose this weekend in Louisiana and Mississippi, as seems likely, his "Southern firewall" is toast.
By contrast, there's Marco Rubio, an even more pathetically transparent Establishment lapdog. Another hyphenate American who rose from humble immigrant beginnings, he is, thus, desperately eager for the Establishment's blessings of money, power and prestige. A robotic, kneejerk supporter of Israel, and a strong believer in the neocon model of regime change, Rubio will without question lead us into another Mideast quagmire, which benefits the Establishment's military-industrial complex, if not the sons and daughters of America's working class who must give up their lives for these futile and costly misadventures.
Unfortunately, though a perfectly malleable Establishment "mark," the boyish Florida Senator has won just one state, Minnesota, and barely at that.
And forget Grandpa John Kasich, who's stayed in the race to win the VP slot, but who will drop out if he loses his home state of Ohio to Trump, which still seems likely even after Cranky John's above-average debate performance in Detroit.
So, none of the top establishment picks seem poised to overtake Trump (who has won 11 states and is poised to grab many more), even with this massive show of Establishment force. This is because the Trump voter, knowing that Trump represents their last chance to genuinely protect the border, deport illegal immigrant felons, and bring back manufacturing jobs to the hollowed out Industrial heartland, has dug in. They see any attempt to take down Trump as the Establishment ploy that it clearly is.
This is not Pat Buchanan's Pitchfork Army, which backed down at the first sight of massive Establishment resistance. The Trump voters are not bending. And they are not breaking, no matter how many outre male anatomy jokes their candidate makes. They feel so forgotten by the pandering, diversity-obsessed status quo that they are willing to elect a touchy, narcissistic, policy lightweight as their next Commander-in-Chief.
As Trump himself has admitted, he could murder someone on 5th Avenue and not lose the votes of his hard-core backers, who have pinned on him the same level of hope that Mr. Obama's fanatical base pinned on him.
So, constant reminders of Trump's imprudent rhetoric are likely to fall on deaf ears. In addition, most of Senator Cruz's voters list Trump as their second choice. So, they too are likely to rally around the frontrunner, should Cruz drop out of the race, as is likely to be the case, after Trump's March 15 winner-take-all wins in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, and Ohio and subsequent winner-take-all victories in Arizona and Trump's home state of New York.
Moreover, Rubio is currently 20 points behind in Florida. Bolstered by his come-from-behind performance in Virginia, where he was also 20 points back and battled Trump to a near tie, Rubio thinks he can pull off the upset. If the Senator somehow manages this miraculous comeback (late-breaking voters tend to swing his way), then, yes, game on for the Stop Trump movement.
However, should Rubio fail, with the millions the Establishment will be pouring into the Sunshine State on his behalf, the prospect the Establishment most fears becomes likely reality: Donald Trump as the GOP nominee. You can rest assured that the Beltway power brokers - in tacit collaboration with mainstream media - will move heaven and earth to make sure that never happens.
And right up in their smug and condescending faces will be the noisy, passionate fury of America's dispossed, a formerly "silent majority" who, like Howard Beale's followers in Network, are now "mad as hell" and sick and tired of seeing their dead and wounded sons and daughters as pawns in the Establishment's deadly imperial dreams and greedy border schemes.
James Marshall Crotty is the peripatetic publisher of Monk: The Mobile Magazine, author of How to Talk American (Houghton Mifflin), and director of the urban debate documentary Crotty's Kids. He writes about the intersection of travel, culture, and politics. To learn more, please go to www.jamescrotty.com.