David Frum has a piece in The Atlantic about the bind that conservatives (e.g., Republicans) are in. He has all but conceded that Donald Trump will win the GOP nomination and that this will mean a Republican defeat in November, not just for Trump but for other Republicans down ticket, particularly those senators in states like Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Wisconsin. His fear is that the anti-Trump backlash from Republican voters may result in some of them staying home.
Frum posits a scenario in which a third party candidate - Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse or Mitt Romney - could "offer anti-Trump Republicans a reason to show up to vote, and thus save the Senate." But Frum acknowledges that such a scenario "has risks, too, bigger risks than anyone calculating right now."
His point is that "when people bolt their party, the party changes behind them." He then goes on to list several examples of parties that changed after a third party run, the most notable was Teddy Roosevelt, who ran as an independent against incumbent Republican president Howard Taft. Roosevelt not only lost, he brought down Taft with him. But more importantly, according to Frum, his candidacy provided the opportunity for progressive Republicans to bolt to the Democratic Party. "The young people who'd looked to Teddy Roosevelt for change in 1912 would in many cases end up as followers of his cousin Franklin in 1932."
There may be something to Frum's argument. Third-party candidacies do often have unintended consequences, particularly for the party from which they're hatched. From Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 to George Wallace in 1968 to Ross Perot in 1992, there was a splinter group within the incumbent party that was ripe for peeling off. Indeed the parallels between Roosevelt and Wallace are striking in that both serve as both political and societal bookends. The transformation that Roosevelt unwittingly began in 1912 reached completion with Wallace in 1968. In essence both parties switched positions. Prior to Roosevelt's insurrection, the Republican Party was mostly a progressive party; after 1968, that title went completely over to the Democratic Party. The Southern Strategy that Richard Nixon successfully employed was proof that Lyndon Johnson, after he signed the Civil and Voting Rights Acts, was right when he said the South would be lost for a generation. Sadly, it's been gone ever since.
There is of course one significant flaw in Frum's argument. In today's Republican Party, there is no splinter group large enough to peel off. The liberals have been gone - purged if you will - for some time. Jacob Javits is but a memory for some, a convention center for the rest. Nixon, perhaps the party's last moderate president, resigned in disgrace; George H.W. Bush, the last establishment president of the party, would serve only one term in office. For most of the last thirty years, the GOP has gone from very conservative to extremely conservative to full bore whacko.
Want evidence? Ted Cruz is now seen as a viable option to Donald Trump. Really? Ted Cruz? The man who thinks he's anointed by God to run for president? The man who Mark Levin fawns over ever chance he gets? The man who is despised by his own party almost as much as he is by the opposition party? This is the Republican alternative to Trump? It reminds me of the saying, with friends like this, who needs enemies?
Well what about John Kasich? You mean the John Kasich who rose to power during the Tea Party wave of 2010 and who just recently defunded Planned Parenthood? That John Kasich? Or how about Marco Rubio? You mean the Marco Rubio who for a brief shining moment supported immigration reform, then when he decided to run for president, all of sudden never heard of it? The same Marco Rubio who wants to increase defense spending by more than a trillion dollars over the next decade, because apparently having the largest peace-time military in the history of the country isn't enough for him? That Marco Rubio? Or perhaps Jeb Bush? The Jeb Bush who thinks his brother kept us safe and who'd double down on his doctrine if given the chance? That Jeb Bush?
Face it, there are no moderate alternatives to Donald Trump, only less crazed ones. On a scale of 1 to 10, if Trump is a 10, the rest of the potential Republican field is anywhere from a 9 to maybe a 7.5. In fact, if you examine Trump's events very closely they are nothing more than blown-up versions of what we've seen all too frequently at Tea Party rallies; and his rhetoric is slightly more inflammatory than that of many Republicans today. In fact, I find it strangely ironic that the same Republicans who sat by and said nothing when Trump was questioning President Obama's citizenship are now going apeshit because he has turned his sights on them. Well, that's what happens when you create a Frankenstein monster; he tends to burn down the WHOLE damn village, not just one or two cottages.
Donald Trump may be redefining politics before our very eyes, but he is also exposing the GOP for what it is: a political party that has become home to an awful lot of racist xenophobes who are fearful of the future and contemptuous of anybody that doesn't think or look like them. Make America Great Again is code for making America white again. As if it's ever been anything else.
People like David Frum - and, yes, David Brooks, too - can rationalize all they want about what's going on here, but they need to come to the realization that the party they think exists - and once did - does so only in their imaginations. There isn't going to be a Bull Moose moment for the Republican Party this time around, regardless of whether or not a third-party candidate runs. That's because there aren't enough lucid or moderate Republicans left to make a difference. Most of them jumped ship or were pushed overboard a long time ago.