Why more members of the Republican establishment aren’t attacking Trump

REUTERS/Scott Morgan
Donald Trump stops speaking while waiting for protesters to be removed at a campaign rally at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, on Tuesday.

If Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee for president, blame Ronald Reagan.

Or at least, blame Establishment Republicans – i.e. the people who control the party system, the fundraising, and, once upon a time, the elections. They’re the ones dutifully following Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment: “’Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”    

Until last week, when Trump and Ted Cruz started negative ads in Iowa, not one major party figure, including the candidates, had stepped forward to say, in effect, that the emperor has no clothes. That means not just tit-for-tat name-calling but sustained, effective arguments — in paid advertising as well as at the debates — to counter some of the positions Trump has staked out.

I should note that I’m neither a supporter nor detractor of Donald Trump.  I am, however, opposed to any candidate becoming political road kill simply because he or she was afraid of offending the supporters of a political juggernaut.  

Lessons from Minnesota’s past

I’ve had my own experiences with both sides of the conundrum Republican officials now face. In 1998, as communications director of the Norm Coleman campaign for governor, I fumed when Coleman refused to engage candidate Jesse Ventura directly, even when, in debates, Ventura would admit his ignorance of government.

Though Ventura wasn’t a Republican, the leaders of the Coleman campaign — including some well-paid consultants and pollsters — insisted that taking down the wrestler would alienate the affections of his supporters who, they believed, would return to the GOP fold on voting day.

But allowing Ventura to control the microphone only reinforced his message that Coleman and Hubert Humphrey were career politicians with no real sense of the everyday citizen. Coleman lost to Ventura by three percentage points — 56,363 votes — and I remain convinced that had he challenged Ventura the outcome would have been different. 

It was a lesson I had learned four years earlier. In 1994, Gov. Arne Carlson, who had been denied the endorsement of his own Republican party, faced Alan Quist in a primary. 

Quist was a staunch social conservative who won national fame for a 30-hour lecture he gave as a state representative about the evils of sex. He said that women were genetically predisposed to subservience, and edited a children’s educational series that postulated that dinosaurs lived alongside humans until the 12th century.

What’s not to criticize?

All of it, according to some Republican Party activists and Carlson supporters — many of whom were and continue to be bold-faced names in the party.  They strenuously objected when the Carlson campaign and the candidate himself pointed out and occasionally mocked the absurdity of Quist’s positions.

Despite the repeated protests from some corners of the GOP, the campaign stayed with the plan of attack, and Carlson won the primary with 60 percent of the vote. I’m convinced that failure to call out Quist would have led to Carlson’s defeat.

Out of fighting shape?

Which brings us to Donald J. Trump. Perhaps, faced with Trump’s unflagging dominance in the race, his opponents may shake off their fears of offending the Trump supporter who, it would appear, doesn’t mind being offended. 

Party stalwarts could follow some of the suggestions found in this widely circulated New York Times commentary by former Bush administration official Peter Wehner, an exception who proves the rule of complacency among establishment figures. 

Wehner offers some of the less effective arguments being used against Trump: that he is inexperienced, that he is crude and even cruel. But Whener also exposes weaknesses that could have been more effectively exploited, like Trump’s embrace of Vladimir Putin; or his unsuitability to be entrusted with access to the nation’s nuclear arsenal. 

Because Trump has had a relatively easy time staying on top, the party and the GOP candidates — including Trump himself — may also soon realize they’re out of fighting shape for the battle that is sure to come in the general election.

The part of the Republican establishment that is anti-Donald Trump should make him earn the nomination. What have they got to lose?

Comments (26)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/27/2016 - 11:20 am.

    Two things come into play–

    first, the party attacking Trump makes it more likely that an activated part of the electorate rejects the party that Trump currently claims to be part of.

    second, people believe they know Trump from his years in the news and as a TV reality figure. There is a higher level of “trust” in him than the current crop of politicians running for office or in an invisible party establishment.

  2. Submitted by Roy Everson on 01/27/2016 - 11:42 am.

    The elephant that can’t be discussed

    “That means not just tit-for-tat name-calling but sustained, effective arguments..”
    Ah, there’s the rub — what would be the subject of those arguments?

    Well, that’s an easy one, but one which confounds Republicans for obvious reasons. The topic is bigotry, a radioactive subject for a minority party which has reached the limits of its electoral “umbrella.” Trump’s political record during the Obama years began as a birther. Dragging out the birther issue was a lightning rod for many of those reactionary tea party types (apologies to Sam Adams) susceptible to buying Obama as the closet Muslim, Obama born in Africa, Obama the other, not one of “us.”

    So after being burned on the birther crap, Trump announces his candidacy last summer and makes a big splash with condemning Mexican migrants as rapists and criminals. Mass deportation. Then he makes a huge deal about his fake memories of thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering after 9-11. Then his ban on Muslims entering the USA. Because of his no-PC approach and considerable salesman skills he now owns most of the dark side of the Republican base. Like flypaper he’s drawn out into the open this ugly stain on our national politics.

    But don’t talk about it. Don’t say a word. The right-wing radio hosts, the party elites and their candidates are loathe to offend their base (and the mainstream news media is little better). They want to correct their base and take potshots at Trump and are aghast at his rise. They point out that Trump isn’t a real conservative, but the Trumpsters don’t care. Because they aren’t conservative. They are reactionaries who have been told for many years that they are “conservative” and therefore belong with the GOP.

    In the irony of ironies, it’s politically incorrect for Republicans to broach the topic of bigotry except on Martin Luther King Day. Trump gets away with it because he can. They won’t talk about it, but eventually they won’t be able to not talk about it.

    .

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    • Submitted by C.S. Senne on 01/27/2016 - 12:06 pm.

      Thanks!

      Thanks, Roy, for saying so well what needed to be said!

    • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/27/2016 - 04:32 pm.

      Amen

      In particular, I think you’re correct about the Trumpster’s supporters. They’re not at all “conservative” by any widely-accepted definition of the term. “Reactionary” is much closer to the reality, and in some ways, “iconoclasts” might be just as good. Many of the traditional beliefs of the society are more-or-less being tossed aside by these people in favor of some combination of expediency and its less sophisticated sibling, ordinary selfishness. Understandable among people who’ve been given the shaft by the 1% for many years, but not helpful to either political stability or creating a better society.

  3. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 01/27/2016 - 11:58 am.

    Ms. Brucato’s Position

    Ms. Brucato states “I should note that I’m neither a supporter nor detractor of Donald Trump.”

    That makes me wonder what it would take to make her a detractor. Obviously everything Trump has said to date warrants a noncommittal shrug from Brucato. So while Trump may be distasteful to her and other Republican supporters, his rhetoric hasn’t risen to the point where they would publicly denounce him.

    It makes me wonder if a potted plant could run for the Republican nomination and get the nod. It would certainly be a lot less offensive to many people than the current slate of candidates.

    • Submitted by C.S. Senne on 01/27/2016 - 12:09 pm.

      Brucato’s fence-sitting

      How can one be “neutral” to the vile, vulgarity that is Trump?

      • Submitted by Jim Million on 01/27/2016 - 02:06 pm.

        Perhaps

        that’s professionalism here not easily found elsewhere.

        • Submitted by Pat Berg on 01/28/2016 - 07:32 am.

          No . . . .

          There’s a difference between saying “I’m neither a supporter nor a detractor” and saying “I will not indicate whether I’m a supporter or a detractor”.

          One might indicate professionalism. The other is merely fence-sitting.

          • Submitted by Jim Million on 01/28/2016 - 11:11 am.

            Parsing, Pat

            I knew Cyndy briefly some years ago, after her TV news gig. She is very smart, very informed and very fair in her reporting. Many here may simply not like the fact she is fairly aligned with Minnesota Republican things. That’s the reader’s problem, not Cyndy’s. And, she writes well…better than many other contributors who often fail in coherency.

            Cyndy is a well-respected professional. Only citizen segments way off the center line would demean her.
            So, let’s require overt philosophical/partisan disclosure by readers. Why not?

            Picking fights with those who are, indeed, professional in their work reflects more the bias of the reader than the alleged bias of the writer. You are not doing that here, I know.

            You may recall I have admitted to being truly independent for years, being rather disgusted with the Red/Blue extremities that wage political war. Both groups would no doubt consider me a fence-sitter or line straddler; but, I’m not. Those are terms of dismissal, not evaluation. I am a solver, not a problem maker/fight promoter.

            I happen to think little of certain pot shot artists in these pages, and try to ignore the strafing runs of various rogues. I will shoot back with careful aim when comments are blatantly cheap shots and pathologically schismatic; otherwise, I keep my firing switch off automatic.

            The level of reader discourse seems to be steadily improving. May those of us who do think before we write form a compact of civil integrity, regardless of personal orientation? We can have fun with gentle jabs, of course. Clever prose is always worthwhile. We do write in a realm that seems no longer to understand irony, reading it as sarcasm. Everyone should work on language artistry. Some here do. I believe these are clear objectives of MinnPost management, as well. I appreciate your contributions, by the way.

            Thanks, Pat, for accepting this mostly neutral elaboration.

        • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 01/28/2016 - 12:12 pm.

          Position

          If Ms. Brucato had simply left the statement out completely, then the article would have qualified as journalistic neutrality. But because she said she is neither a supporter nor a detractor of Trump, that is in itself taking a position. Which then begs the next question: if Trump’s stated positions don’t make Ms. Brucato squirm uncomfortably in her seat, what will? Does he have to kill someone in cold blood, complete with multiple video angles and a full orchestra? Or will that just lead to more had wringing and an excuse of “well, the victim was asking for it”?

          Obviously the suspension of constitutional rights (mass deportation of Muslims) is not enough to rise beyond the pale. What would it take for Ms. Brucato–and others with a similar position–to hop off the fence?

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/28/2016 - 01:28 pm.

            Positioning

            “But because she said she is neither a supporter nor a detractor of Trump, that is in itself taking a position.” I disagree. Ms. Brucato is known to have worked the Republican side of the street, so it is reasonable to assume that she has an opinion about Trump’s candidacy, his policy positions, even his God-awful architectural decisions (don’t we all?). Given that the article is about the unwillingness of Republicans to attack Trump, one would be justified in assuming that she was not neutral.

            We all have biases of one kind or another. The idea that journalists (uniquely) are supposed to be unbiased is a fairly recent one. One hundred years ago, newspapers had partisan leanings, and those leanings were understood by all readers. The fetishization of neutrality leads, at best, to some awfully squishy reporting (Paul Krugman’s “Opinions Vary on the Shape of the Earth”).

            • Submitted by Jim Million on 01/28/2016 - 03:32 pm.

              “The fetishization of neutrality…..”

              That’s really-really good, RB.

              All should note that Brucato’s prose could have been posted nearly verbatim under Eric Black’s byline, disclaimer and all. Reader bias seems far more at issue here.

              There’s much more to professionalism than just getting paid for words. If MinnPost writers were other than serious professionals, they’d be shunning this forum and simply living off their Twitter income.

  4. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/27/2016 - 12:21 pm.

    Playin’ It Safe

    Ms. Brucato is certainly right that Skip Humphrey and Norm Coleman both blew it when they refused to challenge Jessie Ventura. It’s a rarely acknowledged part of the story of Jessie’s election and shows how “playing it safe” and avoiding risk can be the riskiest thing to do.

  5. Submitted by Brian Simon on 01/27/2016 - 12:32 pm.

    Analysis paralysis

    The ‘establishment’ may not like him, but they are afraid of confronting him because there’s danger in taking on the tea party, as former Rep Cantor learned. So they, like the media, have been waiting for him to fade & for a more mainstream candidate to emerge. But that hasn’t happened & the base doesn’t care if they blow the party up. They’ve been burned so many times before by the establishment, that there’s no incentive to support it. Thus the outsiders of Cruz & Trump continue to lead the polls. We’ll find out soon enough if their supporters actually vote.

    In the meantime, the establishment won’t act because they have no idea how to deal with the monster they’ve created. The new base is aroused, but they don’t have the same goals as the old guard. Good luck figuring that one out guys.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 01/27/2016 - 02:03 pm.

      Flowing Analysis by You

      Nicely concisely said, Brian. That lost Republican generation is gone, for sure, morphed into the “monster” you mention. Does anyone even know exactly who/what constitutes the current “establishment”?

      I am quite bemused by “Right to Rise” attack ads in JEB’s name against Rubio. In the immortal words of Paul “Butch” Newman: Who are those guys? I don’t even know exactly how they mean “Right.” That’s how confused those guys are. Maybe they’re really trying to kill Marco to save Ted Cruz. But, JEB??

      We should also note that much of S&P 500 America has always been pretty centrist, more recently moving into the Blue zone. I suspect much Minnesota corporate executive money is going toward Ms. Clinton this year.

      Thanks again for your civil candor, Brian.

  6. Submitted by Frank Bowden on 01/27/2016 - 12:32 pm.

    media’s responsibility

    I also am troubled that Ms. Brucato is “neither a supporter nor detractor of Donald Trump.” How can she not be troubled by his racism, xenophobia, and complete ignorance of public policy issues? (If he has any public policy position besides building the best wall ever on the Mexican border, he has yet to share it with us. Oh, excuse me. I just remembered that he also proposed budget-busting, deficit-exploding tax cuts that would favor, surprise!, the rich.)

    Our media holds a major responsibility for the sad state of our politics today where we have both ignorant candidates and voters. It’s easier and less controversial for the media to focus on the polls and the horse races rather than do the more difficult job of educating their readers and listeners about complex issues and the positions (or lack thereof) of politicians who will have to deal with them. This article is just another example: it’s all about politics and not policy.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 01/27/2016 - 02:15 pm.

      readers’ responsibility

      is also to set aside the “noise” of personal bias when considering challenging positions, in order to comment calmly. That’s hard to do sometimes, but it results in a higher level of discourse.

  7. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/27/2016 - 12:53 pm.

    Risky Strategy

    There is a certain logic to ignoring Trump. Although he is leading the polls, his support seems to be greatest among those who are the least likely to go to a caucus or vote in a primary. Sure, his numbers look good, but the only significant number is a percentage of the people who actually show up. It has been only recently that Trump has mounted a serious, conventional campaign push in Iowa (and, like it or not, the old ways are the ones that get results). It’s all academic if his supporters just stay home.

    The risk in ignoring him goes beyond the presidential nomination. Trump has a lot of supporters, but he also has a lot of people who think he is risible and/or loathsome. If he were at the head of the Republican ticket, who would campaign with or for him? I could see him doing a lot of damage to the Republican brand in 2016, if not beyond.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 01/27/2016 - 02:33 pm.

      Excellent Perspective, RB

      We all seem only able so far to guess at Donald’s inner motives. Thoughtful projection certainly is in order, however. Isn’t it at least refreshing that Republicans have provided 12 or so candidates of some reasonable pedigree this time? They are at least interesting this year, and mostly all seem pretty well-versed.

      Were it not for Bernie Sanders, there would be no Dem Debates, period. We’d all be listening to homilies by the high priestess, with Martin O’Malley as altar boy. [Moderator alert: that’s simple hyperbole and allusion.]

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/27/2016 - 04:50 pm.

        Well . . . okay

        “Isn’t it at least refreshing that Republicans have provided 12 or so candidates of some reasonable pedigree this time?” I’m not sure what you mean by “reasonable pedigree.” There are a couple I wouldn’t trust with a burned out match.

        “They are at least interesting this year, and mostly all seem pretty well-versed.” Yes, “interesting” is the operative word. The ones we hear about don’t seem particularly well-versed (Herman Cain had the integrity to admit when he didn’t know something).

        I am grateful for debates on the Democratic side. I appreciate especially that Senator Sanders seems to be pushing things to the left. Hilary Clinton was usually more progressive than her husband, and I hope she lets that come out more.

        “We’d all be listening to homilies by the high priestess, with Martin O’Malley as altar boy.” Of course, I pictured that in my head. Of course I laughed out loud.

        • Submitted by Jim Million on 01/27/2016 - 11:35 pm.

          Open the Window, RB

          And have a big fresh chuckle. Thought that would bring up a little phlegm out there.
          Let’s have a little fun over all of this…..

          Please, and truly, jovially name some names for all to enjoy. Thanks for a quick pick up.

  8. Submitted by charles thompson on 01/27/2016 - 04:53 pm.

    oops

    Jim- Objection. Last phrase first paragraph. Facts not in evidence.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 01/28/2016 - 11:23 am.

      Withdrawn, Your Honor

      And, my apology to learned counsel for testing the patience of this court.

      I did attempt to find worthy witnesses in support; however, I failed. Now seeking an Amicus Brief.

  9. Submitted by Logan Foreman on 01/28/2016 - 03:52 pm.

    I think

    That the writings of Jim Wallis, the speaker next week at Westminster, should be required reading for all Americans

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/01/2016 - 08:46 am.

    Frankly….

    It can summed up by one observation: Republican have lost the intellectual capacity to cope with complex situations and problems. The problem isn’t that fellow republicans don’t attack a whackadoo candidates, the problem is that the party attracts such candidates in the first place, and then supports them if they think they’re electable.

  11. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 02/01/2016 - 09:23 am.

    The art of the deal…

    Trump’s single, most identifiable and likely most qualifying trait to be President is an ability to find compromise to enable deals. Now, he will tell us how superb he is at it and I suspect he is very good at getting deals favorable to his interests; yet, undoubtedly, you do not make deals without giving up something. And that is the trademark of the Tea Party Right: an absolute refusal to give anything up to reach a compromise. Given that President Trump will genetically look to cut deals and Paul Ryan will be hamstrung by his Tea Party loyalties, who does that leave the Donald to negotiate with? Yep, Nancy Pelosi. They will negotiate the deal and when Ryan fails to go along he will be the new beneficiary of Trump rath: “Who is this loser?” “What has he ever done other than be a politician?” I’m not a likely Republican voter in this election; but, if breaking partisan gridlock in DC is a worthwhile goal, President Trump will be interesting to watch.

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