Yes, Republican lawmakers are worried that Donald Trump might actually win their party’s nomination for president. Their big fear is that the name “Trump” on the top of the ticket will cause GOP voters to defect or sit at home and that Republicans in other races, from the Senate on down, will lose as a result.
“Obviously, we all know from history that if you have a weak top of the ticket, that has a significant effect on the states, particularly the swing states,” said ex-GOP nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona today at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast.
But, like the Pentagon planning for all possible conflict scenarios, the Republican Party actually has an outline for how to handle Trump, the nominee. It’s a seven-page memo drawn up by National Republican Senatorial Committee head Ward Barker that discusses how to prepare for 2016 by “understanding the environment and recognizing the Trump phenomenon.” Senior Republicans provided the memo to Robert Costa and Philip Rucker of The Washington Post.
Basically, the message is that down-ballot GOP candidates should try to profit from what is beneficial to the party in the Trump message, and avoid the bad. The former means adopting some of his tough messages, such as the need to confront China and his blunt talk about US problems.
“Trump is saying the Emperor has no clothes and he challenges our politically correct times. Our candidates shouldn’t miss this point,” the memo states.
This doesn’t mean the GOP will urge all its candidates to push a classy, huge wall along the border, paid for by Mexico, if Trump wins. It just means recognizing what issues work for The Donald.
“Stake out turf in the same issue zone and offer your own ideas,” says the NRSC memo.
At the same time the memo isn’t entirely complimentary of Trump. It calls him a “misguided missile” and says he is subject to “farcical fits.”
It urges other Republicans to “run your own race.” In particular, GOP candidates should be wary of the “wacky” way Trump talks about women. They should just demur and say they don’t agree if Trump, say, insults a female news anchor with hormonal-based slurs.
“We need not be so tied to him we have to engage in permanent cleanup or distancing maneuvers,” says the memo.
Would this work? Well, read the full memo yourself and see what you think. Much of it is campaign school 101. But it rests crucially on the assumption that nominee Trump would be more restrained – dare we say more presidential? – than candidate Trump has proven to be.
It’s possible that might happen. Much of the GOP would rally around nominee Trump, after all. They’d have little choice. The same party figures now running around trying to block his chances would suddenly see new virtues in the billionaire, points out Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine.
“Conservatives who insisted during the primary they could never support him would see in their nominee a different, more sober and thoughtful figure than the demagogue they had lambasted months before,” Mr. Chait writes.
In this environment, Trump might return the favor and act more like a traditional nominee.
Or not. To this point he’s done things his way and it seems more likely that Trump would continue to be Trump, seven-page memos notwithstanding. After all, on Wednesday he appeared on the radio show of right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who has long insisted that 9/11 was an inside job.
The Jones interview basically amounted to a finger-based insult “to all those establishment Republicans hoping he’ll straighten out or fall by the wayside,” writes Callum Borcher on the Washington Post political blog The Fix.
And that’s the root problem. It could be very, very hard for any Republican candidate to not be so tied to Trump they have to engage in “permanent cleanup.” Trump is so outspoken, outrageous, and newsworthy on a daily basis that candidates will be asked on a daily basis for their reaction to the latest Trump-splosion.
If it comes to that.