The meeting last week between Donald Trump and Paul Ryan was something of a milestone in Donald Trump’s march to the nomination and perhaps the White House. While the meeting did not yield an endorsement by the Speaker, it produced a widespread expectation that one would be forthcoming in due course. Despite the media attention the meeting drew, the indication of a detente between Trump and Ryan was a relatively minor development, disappointing but not surprising. There are, of course, abundant grounds on which Ryan could withhold his support from Trump. Apart from issues of character and temperament, Trump’s expressed positions are at odds with Ryan’s on a variety of issues—immigration, free trade, banning of Muslims, entitlement reform, to name a few. But while we would have applauded a Ryan rejection of Trump and his candidacy, any hope for Ryan’s doing so was unrealistic. Such an action would have seriously jeopardized Ryan’s own position as Speaker with little or no likelihood of its having a serious impact on the Trump bandwagon.
The dismal fact is that Trump has enjoyed growing support among Republicans on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. For example, the day after meeting with Ryan, Trump received the endorsement of nine House Committee Chairmen. Even his most outspoken critics, such as Lindsey Graham, Rick Perry and Peter King have expressed their support for the party’s presumptive nominee. Groups traditionally supporting Republicans but initially cool to Trump, evangelicals and other social conservatives, are now reported to be warming to his candidacy.
As a veteran Republican, Michael Gerson aptly put it in The Washington Post:
In the category of credit where credit is due, Donald Trump has been exactly right in one important respect. He attacked the Republican establishment as low-energy, cowering weaklings. Now Republican leaders are lining up to surrender to him — like low-energy, cowering weaklings. The capitulation has justified the accusation.
In the prevailing atmosphere, it appears unlikely that Trump will be harmed by the latest round of bizarre stories concerning his past. One such story was a lengthy review of Trump’s relationships with various women over many years, published on the front page of the The New York Times. The story, which was said to be based on fifty interviews conducted over six weeks, can best be described as a considerable waste of journalistic resources. It told readers very little about Trump that they did not already know, imagine or assume. In addition, whatever impact the story might have had was quickly undermined when the leading example of Trump’s treatment of women spoke up to challenge the article’s depiction of her experience at Mar-a-Lago: while the Times’s reporters found it “debasing,” she had not. The second story concerned the unearthing of a recording of a 1991 interview in which Trump apparently posed as one “John Miller,” the better to expound on his own talents. The Times article and the 1991 tape tend to reinforce conclusions that many of us reached long ago as to Trump’s fitness for office, but they are not likely to cost him many votes.
There are, of course, still some holdouts. Conservative leaders, such as Eric Ericson of Red State, and others are reportedly working on a plan to get delegates who are pledged to Trump to ignore that obligation at the convention. It is doubtful whether that tactic could be implemented legally, but even if it could, there is no evidence that there would be many takers. At the same time, Bill Kristol and Mitt Romney are reported to be continuing to search for someone who might be willing to take on the daunting task of an independent campaign. The names mentioned most often are Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, John Kasich and Romney himself. For readers not familiar with Sasse, Jennifer Rubin, writing in the Post, provided a tantalizing excerpt from a recent Sasse speech:
Both parties are only interested in punching each other in the face. I think we face a crisis of political vision that flows from the fact that we have two exhausted parties in Washington right now. Democrats pretend like we can make America Europe again by expanding 1960s entitlement programs, and too many Republicans believe that we can solve the problem by making America 1950 again. When you talk to 18-to-22-year-old kids, they’re pretty dispirited. They know that Republicans have largely left the field, and Democrats have a terrible product. My party isn’t selling an optimistic vision, and the other party is trying to sell centralization in the age of Uber.
That is only a brief glimpse, but to us it was an attractive one. Rubin also described Sasse’s impressive background and suggested that the odds were 50-50 that he might run. That, however, strikes us as wishful thinking. Sasse is, at 44, a young man with a very promising career ahead of him and sacrificing it, in what must seem a quixotic venture, is a much longer shot.
The title of this blog is borrowed from a column in the Dallas Morning News brought to our attention by a RINOcracy.com subscriber. The column, “If Trump is today’s Aaron Burr, who will be our Alexander Hamilton?” was written by a Professor at the University of Texas Law School, Sanford Levinson, Professor Levinson pointed out that Burr’s character and lack of principle led Hamilton to support his own bitter political enemy, Thomas Jefferson, in the election of 1800. Levinson quoted Hamilton’s writings at the time:
Hamilton set out a full bill of particulars against Burr in a letter the next week to John Rutledge. Burr is “one of the most unprincipled men in the United States.” He is, “in every sense a profligate, a voluptuary in the extreme … His very friends do not insist upon his integrity.”
No one could think him qualified to be president “based on his public service.” Most tellingly, “No mortal can tell what his principles are. He has talked all round the compass … The truth seems to be that he has no plan but that of getting power by any means and keeping it by all means.” He possesses “an irregular and inordinate ambition … He knows well the weak sides of human nature,” and he skillfully manipulates “the passions of all with whom he has intercourse.”
Levinson concluded that “All Republicans upset about Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of their party and, more ominously, the prospect of his becoming president, should be asking themselves “what would Hamilton do?” The answer, he suggested is clear. Alas, however, the Republican Party is painfully short of Hamiltons or anyone who might demonstrate similar courage (even without threat of a duel with Donald).
If a third party candidate does not materialize, we agree with Bret Stephens, who wrote a column in The Wall Street Journal entitled “Hillary: the Conservative Hope.” As Stephens explained:
For conservatives, a Democratic victory in November means the loss of another election, with all the policy reversals that entails. That may be dispiriting, but elections will come again. A Trump presidency means losing the Republican Party. Conservatives need to accept that most conservative of wisdoms—sometimes, losing is winning, especially when it offers an education in the importance of political hygiene.
George Will had written in a similar vein on April 29:
If Trump is nominated, Republicans working to purge him and his manner from public life will reap the considerable satisfaction of preserving the identity of their 162-year-old party while working to see that they forgo only four years of the enjoyment of executive power. Six times since 1945 a party has tried, and five times failed, to secure a third consecutive presidential term. The one success — the Republicans’ 1988 election of George H.W. Bush — produced a one-term president. If Clinton gives her party its first 12 consecutive White House years since 1945, Republicans can help Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, or someone else who has honorably recoiled from Trump, confine her to a single term.
The question remains as to whether Clinton will rescue the Republican Party by defeating its candidate. If, as we suggested, the contest between Trump and Cruz meant attempting to choose the lesser of two weevils, the match up between Trump and Clinton may be seen as the World Series of Weevils. But who will win? Most analysts appear to believe that Clinton is a clear favorite to be elected in November, perhaps decisively enough to give Democrats control of the Senate and conceivably even the House. In this peculiar year, however, it would take someone of uncommon bravado to make confident predictions. As we have observed, Clinton has many vulnerabilities both personal and political. Her unfavorability rating is less than Trump’s, but still remarkably high, and it is not clear how much support she will have from the followers of Bernie Sanders. In short, Republicans who seek to avoid the debacle of a Trump presidency may not enjoy the luxury of “staying home” or leaving blank the presidential line on their ballots. The survival of their party may require them to cast the most painful vote of their lives–for Clinton.