Why Republicans now want GOP to unite behind Trump

A majority of Republican voters say their party should get behind Donald Trump, even if he doesn't get enough delegates for the nomination. Why are Republicans getting behind Mr. Trump?

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump turns around to look at supporters during a campaign rally Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Tucson, Ariz.

After months of trying to stop Donald Trump through winnowing, outright attacks, and devising convention strategems, Republicans may finally be starting to accept the party's surprise frontrunner.

That's according to a new poll that finds that a majority of Republican and Republican-leaning voters say the party should unite behind Mr. Trump at a contested convention.

While the party leadership may still be reluctant to back Trump, a growing percentage of voters aren't. 

If Trump fails to reach the 1,237 delegates necessary to win the GOP nomination outright, 54 percent of those polled said the party should back him for the nomination anyway, according to a national Monmouth University poll released Wednesday.

The latest poll reinforces trends seen in other polls, including a March 14 survey by Economist/YouGov that found for the first time since its tracking began in November, Trump had garnered the support of a majority of Republican primary voters nationwide. That poll showed a jump from 44 percent in their Feb. 24-27 poll to 53 percent.

And a March 18 Rasmussen Reports weekly survey finds that 87 percent of likely Republican voters nationwide now say Trump is likely to win the GOP nomination – up from 60 percent the first week of February.  

"Republican voters, even those who initially had questions about his fitness as a candidate, now see him as the inevitable nominee," David McLennan, a visiting professor of political science at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., told the Christian Science Monitor.

The reasons why some Republicans are finally coming around to Trump run the gamut from genuine support to political pragmatism to a simple sense of fairness and democracy. Here are three reasons why the views of Republican voters have shifted.

Frustration with the status quo

"Dissatisfaction with the status quo is that high – high enough to put a foreign policy novice in the Oval Office. Frustration over the Obama years, and the inability to “get things done,” burns hot. And Republican voters, at least most of these voters, are prepared to bet on someone who is untested in government – even someone they don’t much like," writes the Christian Science Monitor's Linda Feldmann in a recent article.

"Exasperation with the Obama administration, and the state of the country, may be so high by November that the vast majority of Republicans would be willing to pull the lever for Trump..." she continues. 

In other words, a vote for Trump may be driven by a repudiation of the current administration and the Republican establishment, rather than support for the billionaire businessman.

Republican resignation

It's also possible that after months of trying to stop Trump with attack ads, rival campaigns, and more, Republicans have simply accepted that the outspoken outsider who has topped polls since last summer and trounced rivals in early contests since February, is simply unstoppable.

"It is too late," Republican media strategist Alex Castellanos, who had unsuccessfully urged top GOP contributors to back an anti-Trump campaign earlier in the cycle, wrote in an email to the Washington Post.

There is a fantasy effort to stop Trump, like a fantasy campaign to stop yesterday but it exists only as the denial stage of grief.

Now, Trump has earned the nomination. He won it, fair and square and we should respect that. Donald Trump whipped the establishment and it is too late for the limp GOP establishment to ask their mommy to step in and rewrite the rules because they were humiliated for their impotence.

If Trump is going to be our nominee, as I believe he is, it is our mission to support Trump and make him the best nominee and president possible."

GOP's best chance

"Republicans understand that a contested convention will benefit the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton," says Jonathan Rothermel, professor of political science at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Penn. "A contested nomination prolongs the infighting within the party and weakens whoever comes out on top at best – and at worse, results in an independent Trump campaign that splits the conservative vote in the general election.  Regardless of the qualms that some Republicans may have about Donald Trump, most Republicans would agree that a Clinton presidency would be worse."

And given Trump and his supporters' threats of riots, third party runs, and more, the alternative may be worse, adds La Trice Washington, a professor of political science at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio.

"If the GOP doesn’t back Trump and give him the nomination, it is very likely that Trump will run as an independent or run as another entity," she says. "And if Trump doesn’t run, it’s likely that many of his supporters will do what they have done in the past, which is to not vote. Either of these scenarios almost guarantees defeat for Republicans."

As the Monitor pointed out in a recent article, we're already seeing evidence of the party's capitulation.

Party elites like Bob Dole, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, Rupert Murdoch, Rudy Giuliani, and Rep. Peter King, have suggested they are warming to Trump. The Wall Street Journal, which long criticized Trump, has now reversed course. “Mr. Trump is a better politician than we ever imagined, and he is becoming a better candidate,” the Journal wrote in its editorial last week. And Republican donors are switching allegiance to Trump, according to reports.

Nonetheless, the poll may be more about a sense of fairness than about Trump’s support, cautions Harry Wilson, professor of public affairs at Roanoke College in Salem, Va.

"The survey question asked if he should be the nominee if he has a plurality but not a majority of delegates going into the convention. I’m not sure that is as much a sentiment in favor of Trump as it is that whoever has the most delegates should be the nominee. Still it was only 54 percent who agreed with that – a majority, yes, but that one-third that would still prefer another candidates suggests a party that is not united,” saps Prof. Wilson.

Indeed, more than a third of poll respondents said the delegates should nominate another person, not Trump.

Among the 54 percent who said Trump should be the nominee regardless of whether he reaches the "magic number" of delegates, some may simply be supporting a sense of fairness and democracy, adds Jeff Bosworth, professor of political science at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Penn.

"The inherent preference for democracy among Americans means that selecting anyone other than Trump at the convention represents a failure of democracy," he says. "...Selecting a winner who failed to gain the plurality just angers people because it is viewed as inconsistent with the popular sentiment."

Whoever the GOP nominee is and however he or she is selected, the situation doesn't bode well for the party, says Professor Washington. 

"It’s a very tenuous situation for Republicans right now. What we are seeing is that establishment Republicans are concerned about the legacy of the party of Lincoln. They are vested in that legacy and don’t want it to see it destroyed," she says. "Establishment candidates see Trump as trying to co-opt and gain control of the party and eventually change it to what he wants it to be."

Either way, it's a lose-lose situation, the Washington Post's Dana Milbank wrote in January.

"The only thing more likely to devastate the Republican Party and the conservative movement than a Trump wipeout in November would be a Trump victory. Either way, he’d cement the Republican Party’s long-term demographic problems and bind conservatism to bigotry and nativism."

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