With Donald Trump continuing to place Republicans between a rock and an Indiana Jones-style spike-wall, a few establishment figures have been quietly making noises about removing Trump as the Republican nominee at the convention. Salem radio host Hugh Hewitt, who has said he will vote for Trump over Hillary Clinton, said, “I want to support the nominee of the party, but I think the party ought to change the nominee. Because we’re going to get killed with this nominee.” David French of National Review, who considered running third party against Trump, said, “If Trump continues to be cocky, saying, ‘I can do whatever I want and do whatever I want because I own these people,’ there’s a limit to that.”
There are two questions to be asked here: first, should Republicans pull the nomination? Second, will they pull the nomination?
The second question is easier to answer than the first: of course not. The Republican Party hierarchy sees the party as a vehicle for victory first and a channel for ideology second. That means that if Hillary Clinton were the Republican nominee, they’d go right along with her if doing otherwise meant decreasing the chances of winning. The problem with this focus is that no matter who the voters nominate, the Republican establishment will simply bow and go along – if they don’t, they fear that they’ll destroy any possibility of short-term gain by alienating those voters. That’s why today, Republican National Committee spokesperson Sean Spicer told the press that Trump “made clear he was not trying to speak to the judge’s heritage” after Trump blasted a judge’s Mexican parentage to attack him as an unfit arbiter in the Trump University case.
Ideas don’t matter as much as votes, in this view. And that means that it’s unfair to call the Republican Party the Party Of Lincoln. It’s actually the Party Of Whomever Wins The Nomination.
Then there’s the bigger question: if the Party had the stones to do it (they don’t), should they change the rules to take the nomination away from Trump? There are several counterarguments. There’s the basic justice argument: Trump won fair and square, and you don’t get to change the rules after the game has been played. There’s the instrumental argument: tossing Trump over will only keep the Trump movement, which feeds on rage, alive; allowing Trump to win the nomination and then get roasted by Hillary will burn out the bearings on the Trump Train. There’s the hypocrisy argument: Republicans didn’t move to stop the man behind campaign finance reform or Obamacare from taking the nomination, so what moral ground can they claim to stop Trump?
All of these arguments work if the Republican Party is merely a tool for electoral victory. None of them work if the GOP is a party of principles. In 1990, when former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke ran for the Senate as a Republican, the Party withdrew all support and instead threw the election to the Democratic incumbent. All three of the arguments above for Trump worked for Duke as well: he was thwarted by procedure, his movement stuck around for the next several years, and Republicans had supported other unpalatable candidates. But the state GOP understood that it could not stand by David Duke. The GOP today could do the same with Trump. But they won’t.
And that means that Trump will be the nominee. More importantly, the GOP’s acquiescence to that fact means that the GOP now follows Trump, not the other way around.