If the Republican establishment had set out to confirm every criticism Donald Trump has made of them, they could not have done a better job of it. Since Trump declared on Monday that he would bar Muslims from entering the United States, Republican presidential candidates and leaders have dutifully trooped to the microphones to say they disagree with Trump but would still accept him as their party’s nominee.
Yet, behind the scenes, they have been scrambling to avert his nomination.
Of course, in the fever swamps of contemporary politics, where loyalty is a catchphrase, not a reality, and where alliances are so strained that it is impossible even to know who is gaming who at any particular moment, there is no “behind the scenes.”
Secrets are not secrets for long. Hypocrisies become headlines.
So it was that, as the Republican establishment finally began to wrestle with the Trump reality, party leaders ended up wrestling with their own cowardice and cynicism.
Even as Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and others were declaring their intention to back Trump if the front-runner for the party’s 2016 presidential nomination is, in fact, nominated, party elites were gathering to plot a strategy for stopping Trump.
Unfortunately for them, because they have relied on money and a media echo chamber for so long that they do not know how to engage in old-fashioned practical politics, the elites got everything wrong. And so, too, did much of the media.
On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that Priebus, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, and roughly 20 other Wall Street mandarins gathered for a “prix fixe three-course meal at the Source, an Asian fusion restaurant near the Capitol.” The supposedly secret talk was of trumping Trump.
The party establishment was finally recognizing it has a problem. But it was still failing to recognize why it has a problem.
The billionaire upstart’s candidacy has gone from strength to strength because of the failure of most of his fellow Republican contenders to even begin to seriously challenge his outrageous statements, and because lazy major media outlets have made Trump the central figure in vapid “celebrity-watch” coverage of the 2016 race. Now Trump has an overwhelming lead in national polls of Republicans, and solid leads in most primary and caucus states.