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Here’s why Donald Trump must be the GOP nominee – if you still want to have a GOP come November. It’s time for the establishment and big donors to end the scheming and accept the obvious: More voters want Trump to be the GOP nominee than want any other candidate. Period.
Parties might be "private clubs" that don’t really need voters in primaries, but they need millions of voters in November or they become the equivalent of a powerless kaffeeklatsch.
On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders is toast unless Hillary’s indicted for her "damn emails." Unlikely. However, Trump’s ceiling keeps rising. On Tuesday night, he swept five states in the Northeast. Tallies showed Trump well over 50 percent in each state – reminiscent of his huge win in New York – and over 60 percent in Rhode Island and Delaware. Importantly, Trump won Pennsylvania by a huge margin: 56.9 percent with 99 percent in. CNN was estimating Tuesday night that Ted Cruz would earn zero delegates (not to mention the fact he’s already mathematically eliminated).
Pennsylvania matters a lot because it has a bunch of unbound delegates that could boost Trump over the magic number if he comes close. Exit polls showed most Republicans think the candidate with the most votes should be the nominee. Establishment, are you listening?
How is the establishment going to make someone else the nominee who lost by millions of votes and hundreds of delegates – presuming Trump doesn’t reach the magic number – and expect voters to say, "Oh, OK, I’ll vote for someone I already rejected because you told me to do so even though I am already angry at you!" Come on.
On CNN, they walked through how Trump gets to the magic number needed to get the nomination outright. Yes, Indiana still matters, and California, and also states he’s heavily favored in, like New Jersey. But it’s hard to see how, if Trump doesn’t get to the magic number, he isn’t very close to it. He moved from plurality to majority Tuesday night, and being that close to the magic number makes it very hard for the elites to not enrage millions if they choose someone else. And he’s going to at least be very close. That’s clear now.
On Wednesday, Cruz tried to pull a rabbit out of a hat by announcing Carly Fiorina as his VP, but this doesn't change the analysis. Even if she helps him stop Trump in Indiana, Trump is likely to remain very far ahead and very close to the magic number. Too little, too late – or early in the sense that it's highly presumptuous and just plain odd for a guy mathematically eliminated by the voters to pick a running mate (a running mate also mathematically eliminated by the voters no less).
Fiorina is a good VP choice but hardly a major game changer in this context; she had a mixed record as a CEO some years ago as Trump will rush to point out. Her speech was fiery and articulate, but bizarrely, it's like she and Cruz are running a general election campaign rhetoric-wise against the guy, Trump, whom millions more GOP voters want. They seem to forget those voters already rejected them. Save it for Hillary.
So with all of that, what’s the argument for anyone else? Unless the establishment wants to stand in outright schism with lots of its voters, give it up.
It’s kind of the GOP’s own fault. Republicans planted the seeds, with pessimistic criticism of government and by building up the myth of the common man’s common sense being superior to elites. Remember Joe the Plumber?
Establishment types might spend their time getting Trump to sand off his roughest edges and focus him like a laser beam on the economy and ISIS. Urge him to reach out to minority voters who feel insulted, or worse, by him; that’s awful, and it must stop. It’s necessary. Get him to soften his crazy Muslim ban plan and outrageous and inhumane mass deportation scheme. Get him to stop talking about Hillary’s gender. He’s worse when he’s being defensive or under attack by Republicans. Get the guy a kitchen cabinet!
There are people – many powerful people, actually – who think that Trump is still a closet liberal, so the GOP also ceases to exist if he becomes the nominee. There’s an argument there; to me, he seems moderate on some issues (transgender people using bathrooms, Planned Parenthood) and hardline on others, like immigration. He’s an odd duck as a candidate. It might make him more electable (or less; time will tell). It’s clear he has more conservative instincts than Hillary, though. For one, he’s said he would nominate Diane Sykes to the U.S. Supreme Court. Obviously, she won’t. I don’t think voters care that he’s not ideologically pure; they just think he will help America win.
Big donors and other insiders have taken to national editorial pages to advance the argument that the primary elections are really a presidential preference contest. The GOP is a private club, they say, entitled to choose its own representative.
This is short-sighted. For one, the GOP has spent years trying to convince voters to choose various candidates in primaries. So excuse the voters, then, for thinking that their votes counted. Why have candidates campaign at all then? Why spend millions in ads?
You can advance all of the "these are the rules! This is how the delegate process works!" arguments you want, but many voters will simply find it grossly unfair if the nomination doesn’t go to the guy so far ahead. The time to stop him was before he got this far.
Primaries were sold to voters as being about the voters. Now voters find out that the emperor has no clothes. It was never about them. It was about a network of party insiders and wealthy donors who get to choose. Their response? They set out to prove it.
Maybe Trump strategized that the only way to get the media’s attention (versus spending millions of his own fortune on ads) was to say outrageous stuff. Not a great statement about the media. Trump has played this like a reality TV show, turning opponents into sitcom characters: Lyin’ Ted, Little Marco, Low Energy Jeb, Crooked Hillary and so forth.
But the voters keep speaking and speaking. I think they know Trump can be goofy, but they think the establishment is worse. I think they know Trump is a jerk, but they think a jerk is what we might need. After all, we are facing some determined enemies in ISIS.
In some respects, Trump’s more moderate than Cruz. My favorite candidate on the GOP side this season was John Kasich. However, voters don’t want him. I truly wish there was a viable Independent party in this country. It’s very frustrating that there’s not.
If the insiders think they can sit in their conclave like they are cardinals picking a Pope, they will have a big surprise come November: They actually don’t control much. The power will shift to voters. Engineer another candidate, and many Trump primary voters are likely to stay home, vote for Hillary or vote third party.
Will some GOP voters also stay home if Trump is the nominee? Maybe. But the #NeverTrumpers are probably more likely to be party loyalists who, even if they don’t vote Trump, will probably pick Republicans down ticket, potentially saving the Senate and House.
Some people like Trump because they think he will improve the economy, be tough on foreign policy and because they just want to smash the status quo, which they perceive as made up of smug donors and cliquey insiders. Some voters want Trump despite the craziest things he says, not because of them. When people say the country will go down the tubes if he’s elected, they think it already is.
I do think the GOP has forgotten the working class in rhetoric and policy by always seeming to argue on the side of management – keeping wages stagnant, lowering taxes for the wealthy, smashing unions, and reducing jobs and benefits of public workers during a struggling economy. Trump is speaking to them (although his support is actually broad, at least on the right).
Meanwhile, Cruz would likely lose in a landslide. Does he get the separation between church and state?
The bottom line: The GOP – if it doesn’t want to lose a LOT of voters – should accept the obvious. It’s got to be Trump. The time to stop him was before millions picked him.
Jessica McBride spent a decade as an investigative, crime, and general assignment reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and is a former City Hall reporter/current columnist for the Waukesha Freeman.
She is the recipient of national and state journalism awards in topics that include short feature writing, investigative journalism, spot news reporting, magazine writing, blogging, web journalism, column writing, and background/interpretive reporting. McBride, a senior journalism lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has taught journalism courses since 2000.
Her journalistic and opinion work has also appeared in broadcast, newspaper, magazine, and online formats, including Patch.com, Milwaukee Magazine, Wisconsin Public Radio, El Conquistador Latino newspaper, Investigation Discovery Channel, History Channel, WMCS 1290 AM, WTMJ 620 AM, and Wispolitics.com. She is the recipient of the 2008 UWM Alumni Foundation teaching excellence award for academic staff for her work in media diversity and innovative media formats and is the co-founder of Media Milwaukee.com, the UWM journalism department's award-winning online news site. McBride comes from a long-time Milwaukee journalism family. Her grandparents, Raymond and Marian McBride, were reporters for the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel.
Her opinions reflect her own not the institution where she works.