Donald Trump: Why He’s Causing Headaches For Republicans

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Donald Trump and his campaign for Presidency was initially laughed at, but now GOP leaders fear that he could create a third party run that will pull away the amount of voters the Republican Party needs to secure the win in 2016.

According to The New York Times [1]:

Since the start of Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, a vexing question has hovered over his candidacy: Why have so many party leaders — privately appalled by Mr. Trump’s remarks about immigrants from Mexico — not renounced him?

It turns out, interviews show, that the mathematical delicacy of a Republican victory in 2016 — and its dependence on aging, anxious white voters — make it exceedingly perilous for the Republican Party to treat Mr. Trump as the pariah many of its leaders now wish he would become.

Even as a cascade of corporations and business partners — from NBC and Macy’s to the chefs at two planned restaurants — rush to sever their ties with Mr. Trump, Republican leaders seem deeply torn and paralyzed by indecision.

A few weeks ago, those divisions were on vivid display at a regular gathering of top Republican elected officials, strategists and the chairman of the Republican National Committee. Over dinner at the Hay-Adams Hotel opposite the White House, some argued for a swift response, fearing Mr. Trump would mar the coming Republican presidential debates with his needless provocations. Others counseled a hands-off approach, fearing attempts to rein him in would only turn him into a political martyr and, worse, tempt him toward that third-party run.

No consensus was reached, and the party chairman, Reince Priebus, left with no clear directive, according to two attendees at the dinner.

Dispirited party elders, worried that Republicans are handing Democratic rivals a powerful campaign weapon by allowing Mr. Trump’s voice to be depicted as representative of the party, are sounding the alarm with growing urgency.

“The Republican Party is making a mistake if they think they can just remain quiet when he speaks up, or to demur or to just lightly distance themselves,” said Peter Wehner, a former official in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. “He’s doing tremendous damage.”

Mr. Trump, the New York developer, reality television host and political provocateur, shows no signs of backing off from his remarks, made during his announcement of a campaign for the White House three weeks ago.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” he said then. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems. And they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

In the days after, there has been a striking absence of public denunciations of Mr. Trump from leading Republican candidates for president and the party’s top officials in Washington. Only last weekend did Jeb Bush — after a muted earlier response — call the “rapists” comment “extraordinarily ugly” and “not reflective of the Republican Party.”

But Mr. Priebus took a quieter route on Wednesday. In a brief telephone conversation with Mr. Trump, first reported by the Washington Post, he urged Mr. Trump to soften his tone on immigrants even as he offered praise of his candidacy, according to Mr. Trump and others told of the conversation.

In classic form, though, Mr. Trump quickly thanked the party chairman with acerbic broadsides that could discourage similar attempts to rein him in. Mr. Trump reached out to a New York Times reporter Thursday morning to say the call was “congratulatory,” not condemnatory, and posit that Mr. Priebus “knows better than to lecture me.”

He added, “We’re not dealing with a five-star Army general.”

Mr. Trump’s language about Mexicans highlighted two of the most divisive issues within the Republican coalition — race and immigration. It was Mr. Priebus who led a bracing review of the party’s 2012 losses, resulting in dire warnings about its need to improve its standing with Hispanics. But Mr. Trump’s support is expected to draw heavily from those disaffected white voters who lined up behind Mitt Romney in 2012 — and whom Republicans acknowledge they will need again to recapture the White House in 2016.

“As a presidential candidate, he’s taking a problem we already have as a party and making it worse,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, another White House aspirant. “If we continue this we’re going to accelerate the demographic death spiral we’re in.”

To a degree, the party’s problems with Mr. Trump have come full circle. He first gained attention among Republicans, including Mr. Priebus, when he flirted with a presidential run in 2012, gaining a following as someone who viscerally attacked President Obama. Mr. Trump eventually bowed out, though he continued to question Mr. Obama’s birthplace.

Now, what remains so appealing to many of the white voters who like Mr. Trump is his perceived willingness to tell hard truths about delicate issues — racial and otherwise — that, to their mind, the party establishment is too timid to discuss.

“There are a lot of people who are very angry at the grass-roots level and who are convinced the Republican leaders in Congress are not doing everything for the conservative cause,” said Charlie Black, a former adviser to John McCain in 2008 and Mr. Romney in 2012. Mr. Trump, he said, holds undeniable appeal to such voters.

A poll released by the Pew Research Center in May found that 63 percent of Republican voters view immigrants as a “burden” who compete for jobs, housing, and health care compared with 32 percent of Democrats.

But Mr. Trump also risks alienating from Republicans a crucial bloc of swing voters who lean right on economics but disdain any hint of scapegoating minorities — not to mention a cross-section of minority voters who are offended by his message.

“Republicans have a tremendous opportunity with Latino voters in 2016,” said George E. Pataki, a Republican candidate who described Mr. Trump’s words as “slandering” and called on his fellow candidates to firmly denounce them. “To lose that opportunity over divisive rhetoric would be tragic.”

But any top-down campaign by Republicans to marginalize Mr. Trump might encourage him to follow through with a threat to run on a third-party ballot, a scenario reminiscent of Ross Perot’s 1992 campaign, which diverted crucial votes from President George Bush. Many in the party still blame Mr. Perot, who won 19 percent of the vote, for Mr. Bush’s defeat to Bill Clinton.

“Perot’s intensely nationalist and protectionist politics resonated with a lot of center-right voters that otherwise would have voted Republican,” said Dan Senor, a former Bush administration official who advised Mr. Romney’s campaign. “And the environment today is even more intensely populist. If Trump were to run as an independent, who knows what impact he could have in what will otherwise be a close election?”

That possibility, said Thomas M. Davis, a former Republican congressman from Virginia, is reason enough for the party not to attack Mr. Trump. “You’ve got to keep him in the tent,” Mr. Davis said. “He just wreaks havoc, and every vote he takes comes out of our hide.”

With the party’s first debate scheduled for Aug. 6, Republicans are absorbing the likelihood that Mr. Trump, and his parade of provocations, will be on stage. Fox News has set criteria for participation primarily on the candidates’ standing in national polls, and Mr. Trump is now comfortably ensconced in the top 10.

“He’s 100 percent going to do the debates,” said Michael Cohen, an adviser to Mr. Trump. “I believe he’s either leading or tied for first place in the polls, and certainly qualifies to have a seat on the stage.”

Mr. Cohen said Mr. Trump was aware that party bosses were wringing their hands over his presence in the field. “They fear him because he’s not part of the establishment,” Mr. Cohen said.

Some Latino Republican officials said they were dumbfounded by the reluctance of other Republicans to deliver full-throated rebukes of Mr. Trump — and suggested the debates might provide that opportunity.

“The Republican Party is going to have to be much more aggressive in dealing with him,” said Hector V. Barreto, who has advised every Republican presidential campaign since 2000. “And I would expect my party to do that, to call him out.”

He added: “Maybe this is our Sister Souljah moment when we say, ‘He is not a Republican, he does not represent us, he needs to get off the stage.’ ”



Royce Christyn
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