With Nevada now in the rear-view mirror and Super Tuesday upon us, the Republican primary season is nearing the point of no return. Trump is sweeping state after state, and he is poised to put the nomination away before we reach the convention in July. Unless the candidate field winnows to a two-man race in very short order, Trump will sweep the South with a plurality of votes and waltz to the Republican nomination.
This is tragic and depressing news, especially considering that 2016 was tailor-made for a conservative to beat the Democrats in the general election. This was the decisive year where conservatives could reset the political trajectory of the country and expand the party’s base. That dream is now passing into doubt with each state Trump wins.
But the dream can still be salvaged, even at this late hour. It all hinges on whether any of the remaining candidates has the humility and patriotism to do what is required: bow out of the race and coalesce around a single alternative to Donald Trump. If that doesn’t happen soon, Trump will win, and each candidate who could have helped will bear serious blame.
Trump’s Plurality Steal
Trump’s base of support is proving real, but it is also largely inflated. Trump has secured about one-third of the GOP electorate, but there is an equally real anti-Trump vote that is even larger than Trump’s base waiting to coalesce around a single candidate. That vote is currently splintered among four candidates. If three were to drop out, Trump’s campaign hopes would be dashed. Polls show Trump losing to both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz in a two-man race.
Unfortunately, the “winnowing” scenario is not happening because Ben Carson and John Kasich — both of whom have zero chance at the nomination — have taken the stubborn path of denial and are refusing to bow out. Kasich is hanging on for the Midwest, which is nearly a month away. By then, Trump will have swept through Super Tuesday and boxed Kasich out, along with everyone else.
Moreover, Kasich is already boxed out of the “establishment” lane, as Rubio is now consolidating support from mainstream voters and donors, effectively blocking Kasich’s path to the nomination. The only conceivable role for Kasich is to become a power-broker at an open convention, assuming he wins enough delegates to do so. But if that’s what Kasich wants, it contradicts his narrative of “running for first.” Kasich would do much better by his party, and the country, if he simply had the courage to bow out of the race now, so as to free up support for Trump’s alternative.
Ben Carson has even less rationale than Kasich for staying in the race. Per his speech in South Carolina, he’s waiting for “We the People” to wake up to his cause and rise up against the establishment. It seems Carson would rather die a martyr’s death one month from now than play a constructive role in defeating Trump today. He’ll sell a lot of books that way, but he’ll have sold out the conservative movement in the process — the movement he claims to love.
This stubbornness shouldn’t surprise anyone, since campaigns are actually designed to be selfish. They exist to elect one person to office — all losing alternatives are considered equally bad. The problem is that when victory is out of reach, the victory-at-all-costs mentality can blind a candidate to the real harms his candidacy is doing to the larger cause. It takes a person of serious virtue to know when his campaign is hurting the cause, and to choose the cause over short-term personal gain. We need that virtue in this race, and we need it soon.
A Grand Bargain for the Grand Old Party
If it’s too much to ask for Kasich and Carson to voluntarily bow out of the race (and it isn’t), there is another path: cut them a deal.
Rubio should hold a meeting with them and offer them their choice of a job in his administration. This shouldn’t be a problem for Carson. He’s been every Republican’s pick for surgeon general ever since his prayer breakfast speech, and he should take the job. National Institutes of Health director may also be a good fit for him.
This sort of deal should also work for Kasich — he would make a great secretary of Labor or secretary of the Treasury. He’s said he only wants the presidency, but that’s probably just a pride statement. He’ll only have two years left in his governorship after 2016, and he may want a more long-term position in DC to fall back on. Rubio could even offer the job beginning in 2019, after he finishes as governor. Why not take the deal when you’re obviously going to lose the nomination?
That leaves Cruz. Cruz saw his southern strategy erode in South Carolina, and that does not bode well for him in the SEC primary. Rubio has now edged Cruz for second place in two consecutive primaries, and we should only expect Rubio to surge as he consolidates mainstream voters and money. Rubio should offer Cruz either the VP slot or the next Supreme Court nomination — something Ben Shapiro proposed last week. Is Cruz likely to accept? It mostly depends on ego. But it would likely be his only shot at SCOTUS, and it should give him serious pause.
If this sort of deal isn’t cut, Trump will win the nomination, and that’s not good for anybody. In light of that, the losing candidates should find this deal more than compelling. It would unite the party around an anti-Trump candidate, and it would save the party — and quite possibly the country.
It’s Time to Break the Dam
When Scott Walker gracefully dropped out back in September, it wasn’t because he lacked money. He was well-heeled, he was likable, and his track record was near spotless. But Walker wasn’t the man for the moment, and he was wise enough to see it. What’s more, he saw Trump’s rise, and he foresaw the political sacrifice it would take to stop him. So, in quiet humility, he acceded to political reality and set an example for candidates to follow.
He left them with a parting exhortation: “I encourage other Republican presidential candidates to consider doing the same so the voters can focus on a limited number of candidates who can offer a positive conservative alternative to the current front-runner.”
If we continue into Super Tuesday and early March without a serious winnowing of the field, Trump is certain to seal his victory, and it will be on the candidates’ heads. There is no more margin for wait-and-see. The wait-and-see moment has passed. The Republican electorate now needs heroic and sacrificial action from its presidential candidates. If they rise to the occasion and break the dam on Trump, it will be a sight to remember — and history will take note.