- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A political action committee has been convened by a group of prominent Republicans staffers to organize GOP support for the Libertarian presidential ticket of Gary Johnson.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign, according to multiple reports, is actively looking to recruit establishment Republicans primed to defect and support her nomination. Meg Whitman, a major GOP donor and former California gubernatorial candidate, has already said she will vote and raise money for Mrs. Clinton, a Democrat.

Evan McMullin, a former CIA undercover agent and counterterrorism expert, announced a White House run as a third-party conservative alternative, in a nod to the #NeverTrump movement, a group of Republicans unhappy with Mr. Trump’s nomination. Many of them have worked in or for the Bush administration.

Let’s just be honest: These Republicans — whether they are voting for Mr. Johnson, Mrs. Clinton or Mr. McMullin — are no longer Republicans.

Instead of trying to shape and lead the GOP’s future, they’ve decided to abandon it. Some in self-interest, others because they simply don’t like the direction the base has moved, because it has moved.

Let’s just be truthful about it.

Ms. Whitman has an establishment position to protect — she’s an insider who wants to keep and expand her fundraising donors, so her motivations in voting for Mrs. Clinton aren’t ideological, they’re political. They’re self-interested. Much like those Republicans in Congress who have chosen not to endorse Mr. Trump because they live in districts that aren’t favorable to the businessman.

So is Sally Bradshaw’s — a former consultant to former GOP presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — who said she was leaving the Republican Party with Mr. Trump at the helm. She’s just reflecting the opinion of her former boss and protecting her contacts in the Bush world.

To her credit, at least she’s decided to leave the party, instead of staying in and sulking like Mr. Bush, who said he’s still unsure who he’s voting for in November.

To the neocons — those Republicans committed to a higher level of national security — they see in Mrs. Clinton what their true values are — a more hawkish military view of the world. Mrs. Clinton isn’t selling this viewpoint to the progressives in her own party, but her voting record is that of supporting the U.S. toppling regimes, whether it be in Iraq or Libya.

The neocons feel Mrs. Clinton will increase pressure on Russia, double-down with military presence in the Middle East and will ultimately discount the American public’s growing discontent with foreign interventionism. That’s fine. That’s not Mr. Trump’s more isolationist view.

The ideology of what it means to be a Republican and Democrat is changing. For the Democrats, the party is becoming more progressive, more socialist. For the Republicans, it’s a move to middle-class policies rather than a focus on the Chamber of Commerce.

The GOP establishment elite — who wanted to push immigration reform, support globalization and want a more interventionist role in foreign policy — was rejected by Republican voters. Their crony capitalism was rejected. Their status quo was rejected.

Yes, Mr. Trump won the nomination in a 17-person field, never having to win a clear majority, but ask yourself: Why were there 17 candidates in the first place? Because the GOP was divided before Mr. Trump even entered the race.

Mr. Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio represented the establishment elite this election cycle — what the #NeverTrump crowd is still advocating for. Both were easily defeated by Mr. Trump. Mr. Bush raised $100 million before the race even began. After it convened, Mr. Bush had three delegates to show for it.

In other words, Mr. Bush’s campaign spent about $53 million — or about 24 Trump Tower apartments — per delegate, The Washington Post calculated. He couldn’t win with all his advantages. The party simply didn’t want another Bush administration. They didn’t want a continuation of the traditional Republican policy platform.

The rest of the GOP primary field each represented one or a few segments of the Republican base: The social conservatives, Libertarians, tea-partyers, neocons, etcetera — without being able to pull-in a winning majority. None of these segments are big enough to win by themselves.

It was only Mr. Trump who had the right mix of messaging. He was the only candidate who said he’d control illegal immigration, wouldn’t cut entitlements, stand up for law enforcement and the veterans, and had an isolationist view on foreign policy.

Mr. Trump ran against globalization and the status quo. And he won with about 13 million votes — shattering the Republican Party primary vote record by 1.4 million.

Still, there seems to be some level of denial among the party elites that they don’t need to change, that the base does. They don’t seem to realize they’re a bunch of generals without an army.

And Mr. Trump’s off-scripted antics and counter-punches have helped them in this regard. Instead of coming to terms the average GOP voters’ opinions’ differ from their own, and how they should reconcile this, they’ve focused on Mr. Trump’s temperament and how he can’t be trusted with the nuclear codes.

They’ve also targeted Mr. Trump’s supporters — calling them out for being bigoted, uneducated and racist.

“How could anyone support someone as crazy as Mr. Trump?” they question in their opinion pages and at swanky cocktail receptions.

It’s all a convenient distraction.

It’s a distraction because Mr. Trump is a person, not a movement. He may go away after November, but his supporters won’t. They won’t just say, “We’re sorry, we were wrong, we love globalization, please Washington, tell us what’s best.”

They may retreat — but they will still be there, silently waiting for a candidate who represents them. The establishment will think they have won, and Republicans probably will in mid-term elections, where Democratic turn-out is abysmal.

As far as the presidency goes though, that will remain elusive until the establishment realizes it’s not just the country club that matters. There’s a widening message and policy gaps between them and the middle-class, and for as long as those gaps exist, they’ll never fully have the support of the base.

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