- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Republican Party and Donald Trump inched toward unity Sunday as Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus moved to squelch efforts by #NeverTrump conservatives seeking a third-party alternative.

Mr. Priebus said a search for a more conservative presidential option would be a “suicide mission” that would all but guarantee a Democrat in the White House for the next eight years.

“It’s a suicide mission because you’re not only changing and throwing out eight years of the White House, but you’re also throwing out potentially generations on the Supreme Court,” Mr. Priebus said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “Look, we could have up to three justices change over in the next eight years.”

He pointed to the example of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan. The Wisconsin Republican said Saturday that he wants to achieve “real party unity, not pretend party unity,” and that his team and Mr. Trump’s team plan to meet this week to discuss issues.

“I think what people should do is take the Paul Ryan approach, which is to work with Donald Trump and find out whether or not there is common ground and whether there can be assurances on the Supreme Court and those sorts of things to make sure that our future is secure down the line as opposed to blowing everything up,” Mr. Priebus said.

Concerns about Mr. Trump include whether he holds real conservative views and whether the thrice-married billionaire’s highly publicized lifestyle and myriad business dealings can withstand scrutiny.

The real estate mogul is all but certain to be dogged by flaps like the one that erupted Friday over whether he once pretended to be his own publicist. A People magazine reporter accused Mr. Trump of masquerading as publicist “John Miller” in a 1991 audio interview, which the candidate denies.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump has been widely criticized for failing to release his tax returns to the public, as is the custom for presidential candidates. He has said he will do so after the Internal Revenue Service finishes its audit of his taxes.

So far, however, nothing has chipped Mr. Trump’s Teflon. Trump strategist Paul Manafort said Sunday that most voters don’t care about such matters.

“This is a story the media is interested in. It’s not an issue Middle America is interested in, frankly,” Mr. Manafort said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Donald Trump has been very clear: He will release them, he will comply when the audit is done.”

Such questions are failing to resonate because voters are focused on the big picture, Mr. Priebus said.

“The same old analysis isn’t applying in this election,” Mr. Priebus told “Fox News Sunday.” “I get that this stuff is interesting, but you know, we’ve been through this and it has not moved the dial one notch.”

Most polls show Mr. Trump and likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton separated by only a few percentage points.

Mr. Trump “represents such a massive change to how things are done in Washington that people don’t look at Donald Trump as to whether or not he releases his taxes or what this story was 30 years ago,” Mr. Priebus said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“People look at Donald Trump and say, ‘Is this person going to cause an earthquake in Washington, D.C., and make something happen?’ That is it. That’s how he is being judged by the American people,” Mr. Priebus said.

Mr. Trump’s treatment of women drew fresh scrutiny Saturday with a New York Times article accusing him of “unwelcome romantic advances, unending commentary on the female form, a shrewd reliance on ambitious women, and unsettling workplace conduct,” based on interviews with dozens of women.

In response, Mr. Priebus said “these are things he’s going to have to answer for,” then described the report as “a classic Clinton operation.”

“Again, I don’t think Donald Trump is being judged based on his personal life,” Mr. Priebus said. “I think people are judging Donald Trump as to whether or not he’s someone that’s going to go to Washington and shake things up. And that’s why he’s doing so well.”

#NeverTrump Republicans continue to seek a conservative alternative, but their window is rapidly closing. The effort suffered a setback Saturday when one of the most vocal Trump critics, Sen. Ben Sasse, was rebuked by his fellow Nebraska Republicans.

Delegates to the Nebraska State Republican Convention voted overwhelmingly to reject Mr. Sasse’s call for a third-party candidate. The resolution was introduced by Sam Fischer, a nephew of U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska.

Mr. Sasse refused to discuss the conflict in his remarks. “I know there are political issues about which we have disagreements in the room. I don’t want to linger on them today, but I want to acknowledge they exist,” he said in the Omaha World Herald.

Ms. Fischer, meanwhile, told the crowd that she would support the party’s nominee, a mantra increasingly repeated by Republican lawmakers.

“I appreciate some are disappointed in how things have shaken out, but the people have spoken, and I respect their decision,” Ms. Fischer said.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday found Mr. Trump has high unfavorable ratings in key swing states Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania — but so does Mrs. Clinton. Both candidates have favorable ratings in the 30 to 40 percentage point range.

Mrs. Clinton’s rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, had a favorable rating above 40 percent in all three states.

The result is that Mr. Trump can often deflect attacks by pointing to Mrs. Clinton’s flaws, as he did Sunday after the New York Times story appeared.

“Why doesn’t the failing New York Times write the real story on the Clintons and women? The media is TOTALLY dishonest,” Mr. Trump said on Facebook.

Nate Silver, who heads the statistical analysis website FiveThirtyEight, said Sunday he gives Mr. Trump a 25 percent chance of winning the nomination but acknowledged that he initially gave him only a 5 percent chance of capturing the Republican nomination.

“If you held the election today — there’s enough polling to know that today, Clinton would very probably win, but you can have recessions, you can have terrorist attacks, Clinton is not a very popular candidate herself, maybe Trump is a black swan,” Mr. Silver said on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

“So I don’t know. I put Trump’s chances to becoming president at 25 percent,” Mr. Silver said.

But former talk show host Larry King said that if previous disclosures and gaffes have failed to dent Mr. Trump, maybe nothing will.

“What hurts Trump?” he asked on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.” “He hasn’t released his taxes. Has that hurt him? ‘I’ll never raise money from anyone else.’ Has that hurt him? Nothing hurts him.”

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