Credit where credit is due: The #NeverTrump Republicans never give up, despite repeated failures. They have the resiliency of Wile E. Coyote, picking themselves up after each failed plot backfires and redoubling their efforts to destroy their foe with ill-conceived plans. Over the last six months, they were unable to dislodge Trump from frontrunner status, unable to prevent him from winning enough delegates to become the presumptive nominee, unable to find anyone (even the obscure pundit David French) willing to run as an independent candidate for the conservative cause. After failure upon failure, #NeverTrump has one more cockamamie scheme: Get the Republican National Committee to change the rules at the convention, “unbinding” delegates so that they can vote for another candidate and deny Trump the nomination.
For #NeverTrump advocates, a last-ditch coup became all the more pressing after Trump’s racist attack on Judge Gonzalo Curiel showed that he won’t moderate himself for the general election, but will press on with the sort of incendiary language that plays better with Republican voters than the national electorate. Chatter about a convention coup is being spurred by Republican officials like A.J. Spiker, former Iowa Republican Party Chairman, and pundits like Erick Erickson and Hugh Hewitt. “I want to support the nominee of the party, but I think the party ought to change the nominee,” Hewitt said yesterday on his widely syndicated radio show. “Because we’re going to get killed with this nominee.”
As Spiker told BuzzFeed yesterday, “There’s a long history in the Republican Party of delegates voting their conscience. There is a path for the party to go in a different direction than Trump. The delegates are the ultimate authority of the Republican Party.”
Theoretically, it’s possible: The RNC’s 112-member rules committee could vote to let “bound” delegates—who are supposed to cast votes reflecting their states’ primary results—go free. But in practical terms, it’s ludicrous—and would guarantee that Republicans suffer catastrophic losses in November.
This scheme has the same fatal flaw that undid all earlier #NeverTrump strategies: It completely ignores the preferences of Republican voters. The GOP elite might be worried about how Trump’s racist smear looks, and fretful about all the other blow-ups to come, but there is no indication that Republican voters share this concern. According to a YouGov Poll, 65 percent of Republicans think Trump’s remarks were not racist, as against 22 percent who say they were. (Republican opinion is at odds with the nation at large: More than half the public, and 81 percent of Democrats, found the remarks to be racist.)
What’s true of the Curiel controversy is true of all debates around Trump: The Republican base likes Donald Trump and generally agrees with what he says. For the party elite to get rid of Trump now would shatter the party, doing even more damage to its chances in November than having Trump as its standard-bearer.
To pull off a convention coup now means alienating not just everyone who voted for Trump—a strong plurality of Republican primary voters—but also the majority that is ready to line up behind him. A coup would put into stark relief the contrast between the Republican elite and the base. Trump would be able to fashion a potent (and accurate) stabbed-in-the-back narrative that would tear the party apart and unleash furies of recrimination that would last for years. And when Hillary Clinton won the presidency in the fall, as she almost inevitably would if facing a sundered Republican Party, Trump and his supporters would be able to lay all the blame on the elite coup-plotters.
Moreover, a coup would be much worse for Republican down-ticket races than running unified under Trump. In the event of a coup, every Republican in a congressional and Senate race would be forced to declare their loyalty: Do they support Trump or the replacement candidate? Whatever answer is given will anger a sizable percentage of voters, putting every race in risk.
The #NeverTrump movement has failed again and again because it refuses to deal with the root of the party’s problem: It’s not Trump, it’s Republican voters. In the short-term, there is nothing the GOP elite can do to stop Trump’s nomination. Fantasy scenarios aside, they are stuck with him till the election. In the long-term, if they want to stop future Trump-like candidates from rising, they have to fundamentally shift the party’s approach to race. Trump didn’t emerge from an immaculate conception, after all. His rise is the culmination of a half-century of racist politicking that started with the Goldwater campaign of 1964 and became codified under the Southern Strategy. Only by confronting and exorcising that racism can the GOP become a multiracial party, as the Democrats already are, and avoid the next Trump.