The deeply divisive civil war among Republicans over Donald Trump’s increasingly likely odds of winning the presidential nomination is tearing the GOP apart.
As the bombastic real estate mogul and former reality TV star moves closer to locking up enough delegates to prevail over his opponents, party leaders and donors are plotting to bomb his candidacy with a barrage of anti-Trump ads in the remaining primary contests.
Leading the incendiary attack is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 nominee, who in prepared remarks Thursday for a speech at the University of Utah, called Mr. Trump “a phony, a fraud,” declaring that “He’s playing the American public for suckers.”
It was the opening salvo by high-level party leaders who have been planning their counter strategy for weeks as Mr. Trump moved ever closer to capturing the nomination.
The air wars are being waged by a lengthening list of well-funded, conservative Political Action Committees, including the Conservative Solutions PAC, Our Principles PAC, the Iowa-based American Future Fund, and the conservative Club for Growth.
Conservative Solutions is spending nearly $3 million in TV ads this week attacking Mr. Trump in upcoming primaries in Florida, Michigan and Illinois.
The ads have also been running elsewhere in the past week, on TV and online, focusing on Mr. Trump’s many shady investments that in some cases have hurt a lot of people and spawned lawsuits.
Like Trump University that left innocent students holding the bag and never really got off the ground. And Trump Mortgage, a high risk venture that collapsed in the 2007 subprime mortgage disaster that resulted in the Great Recession.
But also reminding voters of Mr. Trump’s remarks in a CNN interview in which he refused to repudiate an endorsement of his candidacy by David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan — falsely insisting that he didn’t know him or anything about him.
Meantime, there also are reports of deep disagreement in these Republican strategy meetings about whether the anti-Trump campaign can halt or even slow his ascent in the party.
The New York Times reported last week that after dozens of interviews with elected officials, political strategists and Republican donors, many of them “described a frantic, last-ditch campaign to block Mr. Trump — and the agonizing reasons that many of them have become convinced it will fail.”
“At least two campaigns have drafted plans to overtake Mr. Trump in a brokered convention, and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has laid out a plan that would have lawmakers break with Mr. Trump explicitly in a general election,” the Times reported last week.
But other conservative strategists say any attempts to stop Mr. Trump at this late juncture in the race will irreparably alienate the party’s base for many years to come.
“We’ve been trying to get white working-class people into the party for a long time. Now they’re here in huge numbers because of Trump and we’re going to alienate them? I don’t get it. Too many people are on their high horse,” says William Bennett, who was Ronald Reagan’s education secretary.
But that’s not what many others in the party are saying, warning that a Trump nomination would doom the party in November to a catastrophic defeat.
Strategists in Hillary Clinton’s high command were said to be cheering Mr. Trump’s victories in the primaries, believing he would drive near 90 percent or more of all Hispanic and black voters, among other minorities, into voting for her.
There were widespread reports of Democrats voting for Mr. Trump in the Super Tuesday primaries because he would be easier to beat.
Nevertheless, it seems unlikely right now that even the toughest anti-Trump ad campaign is going to block his march to the nomination.
If there were another nationally popular candidate in the race, it could be possible. But Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a very bright and promising figure, is still struggling to win in his own state. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who needs to take a Dale Carnegie crash course, is the most disliked man in Congress.
Both are in their first term and have spent little time in the Senate since they arrived here. No one can remember the last time an untested freshman Republican senator went on to win the presidency.
Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, will most likely win his state primary, because he has built an impressive record on rebuilding its economy, cutting taxes and balancing the budget. But he got into the campaign much too late and is not well known nationally.
Who’s left? Unfortunately Mr. Trump who has an ego the size of Australia, and says he could gun down someone on the streets of New York and he wouldn’t lose a single vote.
This is a guy who wanted to enact a government-run, single payer health insurance plan. Who’s a big supporter of eminent domain, the idea that government can seize one’s property against their will for public purposes.
Indeed, Mr. Trump cruelly did just that, according to a Club for Growth report that said he used eminent domain to “take property from an elderly widow.”
This is a guy who’s “hidden behind bankruptcy laws to avoid paying bills,” the pro-growth group charges.
When was the last time you heard a candidate for the presidency cheering an assault on a peaceful protester at his rally, saying, “I’d like to punch him in the face.”
In response to reports that Vladimir Putin killed several high profile journalists, Mr. Trump said, “at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country.”
Think about that when you vote.
• Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.