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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

‘Let’s Lose One for the Gipper’ — New Meme for Mainstream Republicans?

Peter Wehner’s NYT op-ed “Why I Will Never Vote for Donald Trump” reveals a widening wedge dividing the GOP into two basic groups: those who still harbor hopes that the Republican Party can reclaim the mantle of what they believe to be sober conservatism vs. the knee jerk rage-a-holics who just want someone, even a blustering ignoramus, to bellow at liberals.
Wehner, a ‘lifelong Republican’ who worked as a speechwriter/advisor in the white house under Reagan and both Bushes, says he could never vote for a Democrat. Further, he would consider voting for a third party, or not voting for president, if Trump is nominated. Among his reasons:

Mr. Trump has no desire to acquaint himself with most issues, let alone master them. He has admitted that he doesn’t prepare for debates or study briefing books; he believes such things get in the way of a good performance. No major presidential candidate has ever been quite as disdainful of knowledge, as indifferent to facts, as untroubled by his benightedness.
It is little surprise, then, that many of Mr. Trump’s most celebrated pronouncements and promises — to quickly and “humanely” expel 11 million illegal immigrants, to force Mexico to pay for the wall he will build on our southern border, to defeat the Islamic State “very quickly” while as a bonus taking its oil, to bar Muslims from immigrating to the United States — are nativistic pipe dreams and public relations stunts.
…Mr. Trump’s virulent combination of ignorance, emotional instability, demagogy, solipsism and vindictiveness would do more than result in a failed presidency; it could very well lead to national catastrophe. The prospect of Donald Trump as commander in chief should send a chill down the spine of every American.

Democrats should take notice of Wehner’s well-stated critique, which might come in handy in the event that Trump wins the Republican nomination. Other prominent Republicans have voiced similar concerns, though none have yet voiced their intention to vote third party or abstain. It seems reasonable to expect that more will be coming forward, should Trump get his party’s nod.
Any third party candidate who could get the votes of mainstream Republicans like Wehner would likely insure a Democratic victory, even if he/she only peels off a few points. Wehner feels, probably with good reason, that Trump’s election would be disastrous for the GOP brand. “If Mr. Trump heads the Republican Party,” says Wehner, “it will no longer be a conservative party; it will be an angry, bigoted, populist one.” He adds,

I will go further: Mr. Trump is precisely the kind of man our system of government was designed to avoid, the type of leader our founders feared — a demagogic figure who does not view himself as part of our constitutional system but rather as an alternative to it.

Wehner says that he used to be the kind of Republican who always got behind his party’s nominee, regardless of his candidate preferences. But a Trump nomination, he argues, would make that impossible for self-respecting Republicans: “..Many Republicans will find themselves in a situation they once thought unimaginable: refusing to support the nominee of their party because it is the best thing that they can do for their party and their country.”
“Let’s lose one for the Gipper” may not be the most inspiring meme for the GOP in 2016. But if Wehner is right, it may be the best option for preserving the dignity and future of his party. In that event, GOP strategists would surely tweak the presidential nomination rules and procedures to help prevent further such disasters.
Many Democrats would welcome Trump’s nomination to run against their presidential candidate as their best hope for a landslide victory in November. Gone, at least for 2016, they calculate, is the possibility that the Republicans will nominate a presidential candidate who genuinely believes in bipartisanship and negotiating in good faith with Democrats.
Trump may flame out, acknowledges Wehner. If that happens, it’s unclear whether mainstream Republicans like Wehner would support Ted Cruz, another Republican bomb-thrower, who is even more reactionary than Trump on some issues, as are several other GOP presidential candidates. Another GOP insider, Michael Gerson writes in his Washington Post column “For Republicans, the only good outcome of Trump vs. Cruz is for both to lose. The future of the party as the carrier of a humane, inclusive conservatism now depends on some viable choice beyond them.” Top conservative columnist George Will wrote, “If Trump is the Republican nominee in 2016, there might not be a conservative party in 2020 either.”
Republicans are not going to pay much attention to Democratic advice for them in the months ahead. But Republicans have gotten pretty good results with disciplined meme propagation. So, if Trump gets the GOP nomination, Dems can certainly help circulate Wehner’s argument, as well as those of other Republicans who share his beliefs.

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