The right’s plan to stop Donald Trump

The GOP race has become a battle for the party’s soul, and an all-out war by the party establishment to stop The Donald in his tracks

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

Donald Trump rolled into South Carolina last week as the man to beat.

The celebrity billionaire Republican front-runner was fresh off a decisive victory in the New Hampshire primary, taking 35 per cent of the vote and demonstrating he is far more than a passing fancy to an angry electorate who might never turn out to cast a ballot.

He not only won big—yuge!—he won across multiple groups of Granite State voters—men, women, young and old, conservatives, moderates and independents. Suburban, city and rural voters all favoured Trump. Many supporters had no college education, but a third of them did.

Related: In New Hampshire, America’s tinderbox election catches fire

His rise over the course of the presidential campaign—marked by foul-mouthed outbursts, a greatest-hits reel that includes calling Mexican immigrants rapists and mocking a disabled reporter—has turned a presidential race that was supposed to showcase the deep bench of talent within the Republican party into a chaotic battle for its very soul.

In the words of one pundit: “The bladder-voiding panic has come to official Washington.”

Related: Inside the (unprecedented, illogical, incredible) rise of Donald Trump

While some in the Republican establishment appear to accept Trump as an unstoppable juggernaut, as the race lurches past the first caucus and primaries a growing number of American conservatives are swinging into action to halt him in his tracks.

“There’s a kind of fatalism to what a lot of Republicans are saying and doing these days that is unwarranted,” Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor with the National Review, told Maclean’s. In late January, the Review, America’s pre-eminent conservative publication, released a special edition with 22 prominent conservatives, from popular broadcaster Glenn Beck to David Boaz, executive vice-president of the right-wing Cato Institute think tank, making their case for why Trump should be stopped.

The goal, Ponnuru says, was to “persuade those people who might be persuadable that supporting Donald Trump is a serious mistake.”

Trump’s run is offensive to Ponnuru and like-minded Republicans on a number of levels, not least because they don’t think his policy positions are in any way conservative. While he calls for massive trade tariffs on China, they embrace free market ideals. He has a record of supporting the government’s power to acquire other people’s property, they oppose the use of eminent domain. He has spoken in favour of Canadian-style government-run health care, they argue for limited government and entitlement reform.

Even on the conservative issues the real estate baron does embrace—concerns with illegal immigration, the threat of terrorism, a frustration with political correctness—Ponnuru says: “He discredits those causes through his buffoonery, ignorance, and malice.”

Related: David Frum on why Donald Trump cannot win

Republican strategist Liz Mair says understanding the frustration and alienation fuelling Trump’s domination of the race is key to helping tarnish his appeal. “We do hear from some people, ‘Well, there’s no way to stop him, so what’s the point?’ I think that’s wrong-headed. Everybody has some sort of vulnerability.”

Mair is heading up the anti-Trump super PAC Make America Awesome—a play on Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America great again.” The PAC’s mandate is to take down the business mogul. That means focusing attack ads on the darker side of Trump’s business record: his failed endeavours, his four business bankruptcies, and on his debate and media comments that undermine his populist image, like remarks that wages are “too high.”

The tagline of the super PAC’s ads? “He’s for Trump, not for us.”

Make America Awesome ran targeted ads against Trump in New Hampshire in advance of the Feb. 9 primary. In Iowa, a caucus state that leans toward socially conservative presidential candidates, they reached out to evangelical leaders to highlight potentially damaging comments Trump has made about faith. It aired attack ads in South Carolina.

Another anti-Trump super PAC, Our Principles Pac, was formed in January by Katie Packer, an ex-senior adviser to 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. It also ran anti-Trump ads and sent out negative mailers to Iowa and New Hampshire residents before voting day in those states.

It also owns TrumpQuestions.com, which offers a highlight reel of Trump’s past comments in support of single-payer health care, past praise for current Democrat rival Hillary Clinton, and flip-flops on his signature issue of immigration.

Our Principles Pac has spent $2.75 million opposing Trump so far, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and plans on continuing its efforts in the coming weeks.

A third conservative group,  Club for Growth Action, is also running anti-Trump ads.

Still, Mair says many of the party’s big donors, while deeply concerned about Trump, haven’t so far been willing to crack open their pocketbooks to halt his rise. “I have a few conversations slated for this week,” she told Maclean’s following the celebrity billionaire’s New Hampshire landslide. “I’m hoping they will cut cheques but I also have feared for a long time that some of them would see a Trump win in New Hampshire, which our group always expected, and treat it as an opportunity to throw their hands up and say ‘it’s pointless.’ Obviously, we don’t believe it’s pointless.”

In fact, when Trump was locked in a pitched battle with Texas Senator Ted Cruz in Iowa in January, a number of prominent voices in the party establishment lined up behind Trump as a sort of worst-case scenario alternative to the firebrand hard-line conservative, who spent his time in Washington making enemies in the establishment.

Related: Unearthing Ted Cruz’s Canadian roots

In the New York Times, Republican elder statesman Bob Dole warned the party would suffer “cataclysmic” losses if Cruz was the nominee. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani said if it came down to Trump or Cruz, he was with the real estate tycoon. “As a party, we’d have a better chance of winning with him,” he told the Washington Post.

Not so, argues the National Review’s Ponnuru. “The case gets made he’ll pick up white, working-class voters. Well, maybe he will,” Ponnuru says. “But he’s going to lose a lot of Republicans. Republican support among upper-middle-class voters, among college-educated voters, would very likely decline. There is no reason to think that Republicans have found a floor among Asian or Hispanic voters. There’s no reason [that support] can’t go south. I don’t think this is being thought through at all.”

The private Boeing Co. 757 jet owned by Donald Trump, president and chief executive of Trump Organization Inc. and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, taxis next to a crowd during a campaign rally at Dubuque Regional Airport in Dubuque, Iowa, U.S., on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. After Trump skipped the final Republican debate before the Iowa caucuses, he said the decision played out well for a candidacy that has made bypassing political norms its stock in trade. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

The private Boeing Co. 757 jet owned by Donald Trump, president and chief executive of Trump Organization Inc. and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, taxis next to a crowd during a campaign rally at Dubuque Regional Airport in Dubuque, Iowa, U.S., on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Ben Howe, a contributing editor to right-wing media blog Red State, worries that Trump’s run—successful or not—could so damage the party it will be shut out from presidential cycles for years to come. “In terms of the party, it destroys the branding, which wasn’t great to begin with,” he says. “When you’re spending most of your time fighting against the idea that you hate the poor and minorities, your branding already stinks. So if you bring in a guy who lives up to the very expectations of people who hate you, you’re destroying whatever brand you have left.”

Howe has vowed publicly to volunteer for Hillary Clinton’s campaign if Trump wins the nomination. (He makes a point to note she still doesn’t have his vote.) “The fact I have a headline at Red State, of all places, saying that I will phone bank for Hillary Clinton, and that that made it past my editor, speaks volumes on its own,” he says laughing.

Many Republicans say it’s time for the party establishment to forget favourites, for more candidates barely making an impact in the polls to drop out (like former Florida governor Jeb Bush did this past weekend), and for donors to throw their collective weight behind a viable alternative.

There are reports the Koch brothers’ network, run by the two billionaire conservative businessmen who wield tremendous political influence south of the border, are considering spending some of their nearly $900 million 2016 election cycle budget against Trump.

While it’s still a long slog through the primary season to the eventual Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July, the wait is making Howe anxious. “I may scare easier than they do. Maybe that’s why they’re millionaires and I’m not,” he says. “I think they want to see what happens, but that’s a dangerous game to play.”


The right’s plan to stop Donald Trump

  1. No way the establishment right is going to stop Donald Trump. The people are seeing the establishment as a large part of the problem with the country, and they are fed up. They keep hashing out the same old failed, and tired ideologies that the people simply do not want. The Republican Party, quite frankly, is long overdue for a change. They are out of touch, and they are running out of time.

    The only way that Donald Trump can be stopped, is by another anti-establishment candidate with a better message to give to the American people, and the establishment knows it. That is why they’re getting desperate right now. In the end, he will either get the nomination, or he will drain the GOP vote by running as an independent, resulting in an easy Democrat victory. Either way, the establishment right can’t win.

    If Bernie clinches the Democrat nomination, and the odds are kind of stacked against him, he might actually have a chance. However, if the establishment Hillary Clinton gets the Democrat nomination, which is looking more and more likely, then Trump wins. I don’t know anyone that trusts her for the job as President, including myself, and that most of them would rather vote Trump, than see her win. If Bernie doesn’t get nominated, my vote will likely go to Trump as well.

    • Apparently, Trump is in talks with Clint Eastwood to see if Clint will give up his empty chair this time around to run as Vice Prez. What the remaining candidates have to do to beat Trump, is try to limit the amount of oxygen he gets out to the MSM, they need to campaign like he is not even in the room, Start talking about what they can do for the country, and talk less about Trump, it may be hard, but it is doable. Like I have often said, Americans are so traumatized by entertainment, that sometimes the cant tell the difference between what is reality and what is entertainment, Canada is starting to go down that rabbit hole too.

  2. What exactly does it mean when a super PAC runs a ad against Donald Trump saying “he’s not for us”

    trump is a danger to the whole country but the super pacs are no better.

    • Trump is a threat to the establishment, and that is why they’re sounding the alarm. Afraid? Darn right they’re afraid! Anyone that sells the country out for special interests needs to be tarred, feathered, and run out of Washington DC on a rail.

      The Democrats need to get smart, fast, and start rallying around Bernie Sanders if they want to take the White House in November. Hillary Clinton simply has too much political baggage to win, and so far, they’re too concerned with putting her in the White House, for the sake of ‘making history’, simply for the fact that she has a vagina. It’s not a winning strategy to have, especially against Trump.

  3. If Trump gets the nomination, there’s no way he’ll win the election. People vote out of fear more than any other reason.

    The Republican base has been using the fear of terrorism to drive votes. Only they have the strength and will to defeat those terrorists.

    If Trump wins, the Democrats (and Republicans who have jumped ship) have a huge archive of stock footage of Trump’s insults, accusations, and idiotic bombastic comments. They could nominate a turnip with the slogan “What else you going to vote for?” and win. Voter turnout would be massive for President Turnip because they would be running against the fear of Trump.

    • I’ll have to disagree in that if Trump is running against Hillary, he will certainly win. It may prove to be a close race, but in the end, Hillary simply has too much political baggage. Bernie? He might beat Trump, and he might not. He will definitely beat every other GOP candidate, though. Personally, I would rather vote for Bernie over Trump in that race.

      For all of the bombastic comments and insults that Trump has made, and yet he’s still running far ahead of Cruz and Rubio? They can have all of the stock footage they want. It won’t make a difference. What are they going to do? Use it? The GOP is already split, and people know full well what Trump is all about. He’ll just run as an independent, and what will happen is that a large segment of the GOP that supports Trump will defect from the party. He’s already said that twice, and there is no reason to believe he’s bluffing. The GOP needs Trump more than Trump needs the GOP. That is why the GOP establishment is afraid of him. As for fear driving the vote? All Trump has to say, is that he’ll ‘drive the Muslim threat from the country’, and people will vote accordingly. Disgusting? Yes. Will people be appalled? Yes. However, if pulling on people’s fears doesn’t work as a political tactic, then politicians wouldn’t even bother to use it. When you can be unapologetically non-PC in a political climate where people are sick and tired of political correctness, and people flock to hear your message, rather than run away, I don’t see a conceivable situation where the GOP establishment can ever shut down Trump.

      Trying to analyse this political contest with conventional wisdom is simply not going to work. It hasn’t worked yet, and I have no reason at present to believe it will change, barring some unforeseeable circumstance. The next few months will prove to be interesting.

  4. I’ve said from a couple days after Trump announced his candidacy that he’s not only going to take the Republican ticket, but the White House. I’ve got a few reasons for this.

    1. Demographics. Trump takes the anti-immigrant right wing vote with his rhetoric about a wall with Mexico and Muslims. He also takes the union vote with his protectionist talk about taking the jobs back from China and Mexico, and his disparaging of NAFTA. He also takes the vote that doesn’t vote, because they are bored of politics and he inspires them by saying what they are thinking.

    2. Self financing. It’s really quite brilliant. Everyone knows that money buys politicians, and they’re sick of the fact that Republican or Democrat, Wall Street runs the show and Main Street gets screwed. They watched as the automakers got bailed out and exported the jobs. They watched as the banks got bailed out and the people got screwed out of their homes. Despite being a billionaire, Trump appeals directly to Main Street. There’s a lot more people on Main Street in Anytown, USA than there is on Wall Street.

    3. He’s genuine. Love or hate what he says, he says what he thinks and people are sick and tired of politicians doublespeak. Rosie O’Donnell does have a fat ugly face. GW Bush really didn’t have the IQ to be president. It really doesn’t make sense to grant citizenship to ten million people who are in the US illegally. Not all Muslims are terrorists, but almost all terrorists are Muslim. The way to stop Islamic State IS to bomb all their oil facilities and cut off the money.

    4. Finally, he doesn’t really need to be President. He has a luxury hotel across the street from the White House that’s much nicer than the White House. He has a nicer personal jet than Air Force One, and nicer helicopter than Air Force Two. He has a massive business empire he can go back to if he loses or completes two terms, and the ability to make millions by simply slapping his name on things. This lack of alterior motive makes him even more genuine; its easy to believe that this guy really does just want to “Make America Great Again”. No aspect of the Presidency would ascend him to anything he doesn’t already have.

    The reason the Republican establishment doesn’t want Trump in the White House is because they want to keep pulling the strings, and Trump is not only unstoppable, but uncontrollable.

    They can whinge about how he will hurt the party brand but look at the guy. Nationally he’s polling neck and neck with Hillary or Saunders. The guy is filling football stadiums with thousands of people.

  5. Think about the many, many outrageous things Trump has said in the heat of the moment and then simply refused to back down on later, no matter how foolish or wrong. Now imagine that mentality as President of the United States of America. This isn’t some ha ha, Rob Ford sideshow, this affects every person on the planet. Millions of scared, angry Republican voters are playing Russian roulette with all our lives. Crazy.

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