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November 22nd, 2017

Insight

Republicans chart 4 paths to stopping Trump

Albert Hunt

By Albert Hunt Bloomberg News/(TNS)

Published Sept. 3, 2015

  Republicans chart 4 paths to stopping Trump

Every major Republican presidential campaign and every allied super PAC confronts the same question at their morning strategy meetings: What do you do with a problem like Donald Trump?

For weeks the businessman/impresario has been running first in every national poll of Republicans. He dominates the race and consumes vast amounts of media oxygen, forcing other candidates to alter their tactics and strategies and leaving Republican strategists increasingly unsure of how to manage the threat.

The Republican establishment — major office holders, donors, business supporters and advisers — now realize that Trump won't disappear anytime soon, and that he is likely hurting the party's prospects in 2016. With the establishment increasingly eager for Trump's demise, four potential routes to achieving it have emerged:

PATIENCE

This is the path advised by those convinced that Trump will eventually do himself in. They believe that the accumulation of controversial and offensive comments, along with Trump's lack of a coherent agenda, will gradually sink in with voters. In this view, Trump is like a boxer who absorbs body blows in the early rounds, seemingly to no effect, only to reveal later how devastating the toll has been.

However, Trump has so far proved stubbornly resistant to this script. He has suggested that Republican Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war, wasn't a war hero. He repeatedly attacked Fox News host Megyn Kelly after she asked him tough questions at the first Republican debate. For any other candidate, that probably would've been curtains. So far, Trump's populist, blatantly racist, appeal to an angry, scared constituency, appears immune to backlash.

STACK THE DECK

Republicans in South Carolina are requiring that, for candidates to qualify for the state's important early primary, they must pledge to support the eventual party nominee and not run as an independent. Other state Republican parties are considering a similar move. This is aimed squarely at making the primaries difficult for Trump.

It's also a likely loser. First, if challenged in court the requirement may not stand. Further, the increasingly confident Trump is now signaling that he might agree to such terms. Yet he could always change his mind after the fact. As the fabled Gov. of Louisiana, Earl Long, replied when asked what he would tell people after abandoning a campaign pledge: "Tell them I lied."

MASSIVE ASSAULT

Only one campaign has the resources to bury Trump under a barrage of negative advertising: The super PAC Right to Rise, allied with Jeb Bush, which reported having raised more than $100 million by the end of June. Veteran strategist Mike Murphy, a Bush confidant who runs the super PAC, has said he won't spend resources on Trump. A better option, which reportedly has been discussed among party elites, is for a Republican billionaire to fund an independent expenditure campaign against Trump.

Trouble is, a sustained attack on Trump might cost a small fortune. Independent groups are charged much higher rates for television ads than candidate campaigns, which receive the lowest going rate. Moreover, an independent attack on Trump could be seen for exactly what it would be: an effort by the party establishment to destroy the outsider. It risks intensifying Trump's support.

CONTAIN THE THREAT

Conservative journalist Ramesh Ponnuru, an insightful political analyst, wrote in Bloomberg View last week that Trump is basically a high-octane nuisance. "Trump," Ponnuru wrote, "is an existentialist threat to the weakest candidates — but not to anybody else."

As long as establishment Republicans and thoughtful analysts such as Ponnuru refuse to treat Trump seriously, he presumably can be relegated to the path that fringe candidates Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain trod in 2012. Both led the polls for a time in the 2011 run-up to the Iowa caucuses.

Trump is still unlikely to win the nomination. Yet, unlike Bachmann or Cain, his impact on other candidates has been powerful. Trump raised immigration-bashing to a piercing cry, and now his call echoes. In recent days, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker mentioned the possibility of building a wall along the 5,000-mile Canadian border. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie suggested tracking immigrants similarly to Fed-Ex packages. And Bush was flummoxed in trying to explain an awkward reference to "anchor babies."

If Trump's disruptions continue, it's unclear which, if any, of the above paths will prevail. Trump is a far more potent phenomenon than most establishment Republicans or pundits deemed possible just a few months ago. And he remains an unpredictable force. Republican ad maker Fred Davis, a strategist for a super PAC supporting Ohio Gov. John Kasich, said, "At this stage we really don't know what the hell is going to happen with Trump."

Albert R. Hunt
Bloomberg News
(TNS)


Previously:
08/31/15: Here's how Biden-Warren sort of makes sense
08/28/15:Trump upends New Hampshire's substantive tradition
08/26/15:Jeb Bush is hugging the wrong president George
08/24/15: Underestimating Ted Cruz? That's a mistake
08/19/15: US holds steady in a world of economic trouble
08/12/15: Who will capture Iowa conservatives after Trump?
08/10/15: Debate fireworks that won’t make much impact
07/29/15: A plea for conservatives to speak from the heart
07/09/15: Ex-Im Bank's undeserved rap for crony capitalism
06/24/15: All presidential candidates should be in debates
06/03/15: Foreign policy traps await Republicans and Hillary
06/01/15: It's small stuff that wrecks presidential runs
02/04/15: Can Walker be president without a college degree?

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Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was formerly the executive editor of Bloomberg News, directing coverage of the Washington bureau. Hunt hosts the weekly television show "Political Capital with Al Hunt." In his four decades at the Wall Street Journal, he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor, and wrote the weekly column "Politics & People." Hunt also directed the Journal's polls, was president of the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund and a board member of the Ottaway community newspapers. He was a panelist on the CNN programs "The Capital Gang" and "Novak, Hunt & Shields." He is co-author of books on U.S. elections by the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution.

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