Among all the awful things Donald Trump’s ascent will inflict on American politics, one of the least awful will be the destruction of the Republican National Committee.
There are, after all, about a thousand ways the RNC could distance itself from Trumpism to preserve a modicum of moral self-respect. And yet, there he was, Sean Spicer, the RNC’s chief strategist and spokesman on CNN the other day promising that his organization would support Trump “100 percent” if the billionaire becomes the nominee. Not, “we understand the will of the people and we’re going to support any Republican who embraces conservative values” or “as the party of Lincoln and Reagan, we hope that Republicans honor this tradition and pick a nominee who is inclusive and exemplify the true greatness of America”—or whatever.
No, 100 percent.
So, anyway, I look forward to watching Sean Spicer defending religious tests; getting behind mass deportations; cheering on the assassination of terrorists’ wives and young children; rationalizing attacks on free expression; getting the Republican Party behind the next Smoot–Hawley; and making excuses for the incitement of violence—and whatever’s next. It should do wonders for the RNC’s future.
Actually, Spicer’s gotten a bit of a head start on the project, ludicrously arguing the other day that Trump was probably “speaking figuratively” about his riot threat. Trump was speaking so literally that he repeated himself, like so:
“I think you’d have riots. I think you’d have riots.”
Admittedly, I’ve never been a chief strategist of anything, but “Hey, the guy doesn’t really mean it” does not strike me as a compelling political argument.
The exchange is a just Trumpian preview of what it looks like when hacks in the Washington “establishment” (and I have no clue what that means anymore, though I suspect being one of the guys running the RNC probably qualifies you) perfunctorily disgorge the inane talking points of some short-sighted, risk-averse strategy meant to protect their paychecks.
“It’s the left, and the people on the left that have disrupted events and are trying to go in and undermine people’s First Amendment rights,” retorted Spicer when challenged on Trump threats. And he’s right, of course. Not only has the Left attacked speech on college campuses for decades, but on the presidential trail candidates are obsessed with regulating speech by overturning Citizens United and so on. And now, the RNC joins them by surrendering any high ground by standing 100 percent with a whiny demagogue who threatens the livelihood of journalists who write critical things about him.
Now, I imagine people at the RNC—and in all kinds of political shops around D.C.—still believe they’re smart and crafty enough to control Trumpism and nudge the movement towards a more rational position. Good luck. But let’s remember that worthless RNC autopsy report—the post-2012 document RNC Chairman Reince Priebus called “honest” and “raw”—said things it didn’t mean, like this:
For the G.O.P. to appeal to younger voters, we do not have to agree on every issue, but we do need to make sure young people do not see the Party as totally intolerant of alternative points of view. Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be. If our Party is not welcoming and inclusive, young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out. The Party should be proud of its conservative principles, but just because someone disagrees with us on 20 percent of the issues, that does not mean we cannot come together on the rest of the issues where we do agree.
What if they disagree with you on 30 percent of the issues? Or 90 percent of the issues? Where is the RNC’s threshold for speaking up? In a 2013 interview about the autopsy, Spicer said this: “It’s like someone with a medical problem 100 days after they were diagnosed. Are we better yet, no, but are we taking serious steps and can you see the tremendous improvement, you bet.”
Two years later, the same guy is rationalizing someone warning his party about violence. Which step is that in the healing process?
Trumpism, for the most part, isn’t an issue-driven movement. It certainly creates the perception and reality of intolerance, while discarding “conservative principles” that (used to?) matter to traditional GOP voters. Trump, in fact, might as well have taken the RNC document, closely studied each and every recommendation, and then done the exact opposite. And yet, rather than attempting to undermine his ascent, the prescription for the RNC “improvement” is to preemptively throw 100 percent of its support behind the candidate.
An RNC insider, who requested anonymity, told NBC that altering convention rules to stop Trump would be a disaster. “Change the rules drastically you will have a problem. You want to have World War III and destroy the party?” It’s going to be a disaster, yes. The RNC can still choose which kind. Charlie Cook just moved ten House races to the Democrats column—and surely more will follow. Polls show large numbers of Republicans would support a third-party candidate rather than vote Trump. Yet, the RNC will be saddled with his legacy, one that the next few chief strategists will be apologizing for years down the line. Because if there’s one thing #NeverTrumpers can take solace in knowing it’s that whenever the RNC backs someone or something “100 percent,” it usually ends with a humiliating loss. In this case, that will be a good thing.