- - Sunday, March 6, 2016

There is an increasingly well organized and well-funded group of people dedicated to stopping the Republican nomination of Donald J. Trump for president. Who are these people and why are they so opposed to Mr. Trump?

It appears that there are two groups leading the opposition to Mr. Trump: the Republican politicians and the Conservative ideologues. What is at stake, they believe, is the 2016 election and, even more basic, the future of the Republican Party. What they have in common is the possible loss of their control of the party. They also share a certain worldview with the other “elite” members of American society in government, politics, academia, and the press which does not suffer dissent graciously, particularly from those outside their class. Together these groups constitute what is now called “The Establishment”.

The targets of all their angst are these “outsiders” running for the Republican nomination. These are private citizens who have decided to run for president. They have no real ties to the party regulars and they have never been elected to public office. Originally, there were three “civilians”: Donald Trump. Dr. Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina. As of last Thursday, only one remained – Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump has presided over the most astonishing political movement in modern history, first by attracting a huge army of followers, and recently, by translating this popularity into victories in the early primaries. His momentum is such that he appears to be the odds-on favorite to win the nomination.

No one, including Mr. Trump himself, can fully explain his extraordinary appeal. His message is rather vague, but it is delivered with the supreme confidence of a truly charismatic personality. It is evident that his plain talk and disdain for the “stupidity” of the politicians who have been running the government evoke a strong response from the large crowds who attend his rallies. The other factor is that he is self-funding his campaign, taking no donations from typical party donors to whom he therefore owes no allegiance. This is a very frightening situation for the “establishment”.

The Trump phenomenon is not without context, however. There has been a long simmering tug-of-war within the party for control of its agenda at least since the 1940 election between the so-called “liberal Republicans”, variously identified as the “Eastern Establishment” or “Wall Street Republicans”. This wing of the party is made up of corporate America, national press, national banks and hedge funds. The other wing of the party is the so-called “true conservative Republicans”, sometimes called “Main Street Republicans” – small business owner’s farmers, and suburbanites. Starting with Wendell Willke in 1940 and ending with Ronald Reagan in 1980, the “liberal” (today called “moderate”) Republicans controlled the party.

Their principal challenge came in 1964 when a conservative, Barry Goldwater, unexpectedly won the Republican nomination to the absolute horror of the Republican “establishment” of the day. They responded by joining the Democrat Lyndon Johnson’s campaign and blasting Goldwater with everything they had – including accusing him of intending to use nuclear weapons on the Viet Cong without respect to the thousands, even millions, of innocent civilians who would be killed. They said he was reckless, untrustworthy, and Jewish! Johnson won by a landslide.

The crown changed hands in 1980 when Reagan, that Democrat-turned-Republican, won the nomination of the party, chose the leader of the liberal Republicans as his vice president, and proceeded to win the presidency. John Anderson, Illinois Congressman, ran an independent campaign to salvage the “Liberal Republican” franchise. But a new wind was blowing. Instead of helping to defeat Reagan/Bush, Anderson drew votes from the Democrat Jimmy Carter, and delivered the election to the “new “Republicans.

One interpretation of the Republican Party’s history since 1940 can claim that the Republicans have always governed as a “center-right” party. This includes Reagan’s tenure, which contributed a new set of ideals and a strong intellectual foundation (best articulated by George Gilder and Arthur Laffer) for a conservative view of government, but which, in practice, governed more liberally than its rhetoric.

It took the ultra-liberal government of President Obama and Harry Reid to stimulate another outbreak of “main street Republicanism”. It quickly came to be called the tea party movement, after the colonial Boston marauders who took over a British ship one night and dumped its entire cargo of tea into the bay as a protest against excessive taxation on tea and the colonies in general.

The modern tea party is a “back-to-basics” movement focused primarily on economic issues — deficit spending and the exploding national debt. The tea party has never been a political party or even a political advocacy group. It is mainly an opinion shared by a large number of people, some of whom have organized into local clubs. A number of the current crop of Republican office-holders have been supported by tea party groups and hold the same opinions. They are considered the “far right” of the Republican caucuses in the Senate and the House, outside the “mainstream” of American politics.

Not surprisingly, the Republican “intelligencia” which has molded the Reagan legacy into a rigid checklist of “conservative” positions on a wide array of issues, has never joined forces with the tea party. This in spite of the fact that the tea party’s principal concerns are right out of the Reagan playbook, namely, fiscal responsibility.

Instead, these “movement conservatives” have anointed themselves as the policy police of the conservative movement. Led by talk radio hosts, television pundits, and certain writers of blogs and print publications, they tell the rest of us who is a “true conservative” and who isn’t, who deserves our support and who doesn’t. This is one group which vehemently opposes Mr. Trump. We are told emphatically that he isn’t a conservative, that he isn’t even a Republican (not a true convert), and that he should be denied the nomination at any cost.

Today’s Republican spokespersons speak as conservatives rather than as traditional liberal Republicans. But they seek the same goal – control of the agenda. And the fame and wealth that come with recognition as a “wise man (or woman)” of one of the two major parties.

The other prominent group against Mr. Trump is the politicians. Their opposition is much easier to understand. If Trump succeeds, they risk personal — and career — failure. There is a cycle in the U.S. government which is informal but very significant. It’s about money. Politicians on a state or national level need money to campaign. The money comes from donations, large donations. The people who make large donations expect a return on their investment in the form of access to the elected official, and more often support for the causes important to that donor. This is not a bazaar, not a simple bribery. But it is a form of significant pressure on the official.

Mr. Trump is self-funding. No one is in a position to pressure him by giving or withholding donations. This makes for an altogether too risky proposition for many career politicians. So, they want to stop him at any cost – even a Goldwater-like smear campaign (which is already starting).

There is another factor in all of this: Mr. Trump’s electability. Unfortunately, Mr. Trump has alienated a segment of the public by his style and some of the extreme positions he has taken, mostly in the name of flaunting “political correctness”. This factor gives the opposition effective cover for seeking his defeat. They do not have to disclose the true reasons for their opposition. They can claim that they are convinced he cannot beat the Democrat because he has alienated so many voting blocs with his rhetoric. They will not fool the Trump armies however.

It seems that Mr. Trump has finally given voice to the tea party and indeed the “main street Republican” who has been losing the battle for control of the Republican Party for generations. He is in the process of attempting to change the direction of the Republican Party as did Abraham Lincoln in 1859 and Ronald Reagan in 1979. Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 and Lyndon Johnson in 1964 achieved similar results in the Democrat Party. He has reached the “silent majority” and is bringing them all into the Republican Party.

Where Goldwater failed, Mr. Trump may yet succeed even though he has given the opposition grist for their mill. The difference this time may be the direct access the candidate has to the public though social media and the 24/7 news cycle. We shall see.

One thing is clear: if the party bosses rig a convention that denies Mr. Trump the nomination even if he has won the popular vote, it will happen on live television. That would forever alienate the masses of Trump followers, throw the election to the Democrats, and perhaps doom the Republican Party to oblivion along with the Whigs. They refused to listen to the will of the people, who wanted Abraham Lincoln as their candidate. After the 1860 election, they were never heard from again.

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