Donald Trump Starts Plotting His Exit

The property tycoon was never going to win. His demise is proof that the party still decides.

Businessman Donald Trump makes a speech in Derry, New Hampshire, August 19
Businessman Donald Trump makes a speech in Derry, New Hampshire, August 19 (Michael Vadon)

For those of us who have never taken Donald Trump’s presidential ambitions very seriously, the more interesting question has been: how will he bow out?

The first hint of an exit strategy came on Tuesday when Trump’s lawyer warned Republican donors against paying for commercials that attack his boss.

The property tycoon, who likes to boast of his spot at the top of the national polls, was never going to admit defeat. Whenever he is caught in a lie or called out for his outrageous statements, Trump invariably blames others.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he will blame his inevitable demise on a party that doesn’t want him.

Republicans go after Trump

The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Republican operatives were planning to run a “guerrilla campaign” against Trump.

On Monday, a group that backs Ohio governor John Kasich for president released its first ad calling into question Trump’s ability to — as they put it — lead the free world.

A spokesman told reporters that ten big donors, not all necessarily Kasich supporters, had poured money into the organization to finance its anti-Trump campaign.

Kasich is seen as the most moderate candidate for the 2016 nomination and therefore stands little chance of winning. With little to lose, he can go after the New Yorker who is still supported by 27 percent of Republican voters, according to the latest RealClearPolitics average of opinion polls.

Trump previously pledged not to run as an independent should he lose the Republican nomination. His lawyer, Michael Cohen, told CNN on Tuesday that he might go back on that promise if he believes the party has treated him “unfairly.”

“If they break that agreement with him, as they say, woe be on them,” Cohen said.

Of course, there never was an agreement to treat Trump fairly or not. Attack ads are how Americans run their elections and all the one released on Monday does is play back Trump’s own worst statements.

The party still decides

If Trump is half as smart as he says he is, he must have known that he was never going to get the nomination. Even if 27 percent of Republicans agrees with some of the things he has said, few would mistake Trump’s candor for competence. Even fewer would think he stands a chance against Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, in 2016.

Certainly none of the party actors — the donors, elected officials and party insiders — who typically decide the outcome of internal elections had any interest in Trump.

Political scientists Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel and John Zaller argued in 2008 that it is really “the” party that decides whom to nominate. The decision isn’t made in smokey rooms. It is made by individuals, factions, lobby and interest groups. Sometimes, the party doesn’t reach a consensus until after a few debates and primary elections have tested the candidates’ electability. But in the end, the “establishment” always finds a candidate to rally around and it signals its preference by making endorsements. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are ahead in that sense.

Trump was never going to win the establishment’s blessing, because he doesn’t advance the Republican agenda.

He has taken positions that are at odds with conservative orthodoxy while his bravado and bluster threaten to alienate middle-class and Hispanic voters, the very swing constituencies Republicans need to woo if they are going to win back the White House.

The fact that donors and party operatives are now taking action to remove Trump from the race shows that this is not an unusual nominating contest after all and that the part still decides.

Running for president has been a great publicity stunt for the publicity-hungry Trump. Now it’s time to move on. With only two months to go before Iowa and New Hampshire vote, it is about time the Republican Party starts getting serious about whom to run against Clinton.

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