- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Republican leaders who either don’t like Donald Trump’s views or rhetorical table manners are conspiring in public to take him down. They are convinced that if they can deny him the 1,237 votes he will need to secure the party’s presidential nomination when he gets to Cleveland they can unhorse him and nominate someone more to their liking. It’s a long shot, but possible, and not unprecedented, which doesn’t mean they should do it.

They argue that Mr. Trump would make a terrible general election candidate given his penchant for rhetorical excess and the videotape of him attacking just about every voter group one might conjure up that Democrats will run incessantly between now and November. They are correct to a point. There is little doubt that the Donald has given opponents a lot of fodder to be used against him and will lose some votes as a result, but simply looking at the votes he would lose fails to take into account those he might attract that a more typical Republican candidate would never get. Like it or not, the man is drawing moderate, liberal and ethnic voters to his cause; votes not available to other Republican wannabes. It’s precisely this cross-partisan appeal that has his Republican detractors praying for closed primaries where only “traditional” Republicans can cast ballots. It’s hard to say at this point whether he would prove the disaster as a candidate that his detractors claim, but their certainty on the matter should be taken with a grain or two of salt.

Many of them, including many of my fellow conservatives, are also deeply concerned about what Mr. Trump might do as president, a concern that I share. They look at his past statements on a variety of issues and conclude that either he is a moderate or liberal masquerading as a conservative to hijack their party for his own purposes, or that he neither understands nor cares much about the issues so important to the future of the country. It is the crux of Ted Cruz’s effort to convince primary voters, caucus attendees and ultimately, the delegates who will gather in Cleveland, that The New Yorker can’t be trusted, but that he can. It’s a potent argument, but misses the point of Mr. Trump’s appeal even in states where Cruz’s argument should resonate.

Traditional Republicans have failed consistently over the last few years to appreciate just how angry those who live outside the Washington Beltway are at what goes on in this city. They have responded to Republican leadership appeals that if they give money, work their precincts and go to the polls to elect more Republicans to go to Washington, things will improve. So in 2010, they elected a Republican majority to the House of Representatives and when told that wasn’t quite enough, doubled down and gave the GOP a Senate majority in 2014. Then they were told they were asking the impossible by demanding that the men and women who took their money and their votes try to do what Republican Senate and House candidates spent millions of dollars on ads promising to do if elected. What galled them was not that those they elected failed, but that because they expected to fail they never even tried.

When the fictional network anchor Howard Beale in the 1976 film production of “Network” urged his viewers to lean out their windows and shout, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” he was presciently predicting what voters would do this year. They don’t care if Mr. Trump isn’t as consistently conservative as his competitors or that they don’t really know what he might do as president. They do know that he shares their anger and is willing to express it, to forget about political correctness and the euphemistic and homogenized way today’s politicians seek to, above all, avoid controversy. He, like Bernie Sanders in the other party, is on to something neither party establishment can even comprehend.

If he gets the Republican nomination he may or may not win the general election, and if he does win it, he may or may not prove a successful chief executive, but one thing is certain: If he arrives in Cleveland not just with a bare plurality, but with a dominating lead or even a majority, and those who don’t like him or his politics snatch the nomination from him, they will end up having to deal with millions of “mad as hell” voters who they will have convinced that their party’s leaders care little about them or their problems.

And that’s not the sort of thing likely to end well in November.

David A. Keene is Opinion editor at The Washington Times.

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