Earl Ofari Hutchinson's take on the politics of the day
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
“With God as my witness I will Not Vote for Donald Trump.” A liberal, moderate, Democrat or Republican, independent, or me did not say or write this. This was the blaring headline on a conservative website. The flat pronouncement of anti-Trump sentiment by an avowed conservative activist merely reaffirmed what many in the GOP have frantically whispered and sweated over privately and some even publicly since Trump’s relentless unwavering dominance of the GOP presidential popularity polls from almost the moment he officially jumped in the race last June.
They sweat that he will actually be the party’s nominee. And if so, what will that do to the party? GOP leaders from House Majority leader Paul Ryan to Arizona Senator John McCain sweat that Trump could not only cost the GOP any shot at the White House but blow their majority hold on the Senate as well. The one thing that would almost certainly insure that is if the sentiment voiced by the conservative activist about Trump is not just a bad case of momentary blowing smoke.
A quick glance back at the 2008 presidential contest tells why GOP leaders exhibit nervous jitters over possible GOP presidential nominee Trump. In an October, 2008 interview on Meet the Press, Republican stalwart Colin Powell said publicly what legions in the GOP had up to that point grumbled privately and that was that he would not vote for GOP presidential candidate John McCain; why? Sarah Palin. Palin, of course, was McCain’s vice-presidential pick. Powell flatly said she’s “not ready to be president.”
The dominoes for the McCain-Palin ticket quickly tumbled after that. Dozens of big name, even icon GOP stalwarts, endorsed Obama’s candidacy. They included many of the sons, daughter’s grandchildren and in-laws of Republican presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, and Reagan, and 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. The GOP defectors also included an array of some of the leading conservative writers, editors and publishers.
Many of them, as Powell, publicly made clear that they were horrified at the nightmarish thought of Palin being the proverbial heartbeat away from the presidency. Palin simply being on the ticket, though, didn’t cost McCain the presidency. There were too many negatives for McCain to pinpoint her as the sole reason, such as a collapsing economy, a failed and flawed Iraq war, Bush’s abysmal overall record, and the sense on the part of GOP hard core conservatives that McCain was not one of them. However, the inescapable fact was that many in the GOP just simply saw Palin as a living, breathing disaster for the party.
Fast forward eight years later, and this time the nightmare for many is not a vice-presidential candidate being a heartbeat from the presidency, but a dubious candidate bagging the presidency itself. The hints of broken ranks and splits and outright rejection all stirred by the prospect of a Trump nomination are plainly there. One big money GOP leaning PAC, Our Principles, has already dumped several million dollars into a series of running hit ads savaging Trump as a “conservative of convenience.” As Trump notches primary victories, the noise within the GOP about “stopping Trump” almost certainly will shoot the decibels about heading Trump off even higher.
Trump for his part hasn’t done much to win any favors from the GOP establishment. But then he doesn’t have to, his campaign from the start wasn’t based on winning their favor or approval. His mediagenic persona, brashness, and take-no-prisoners style stirred the basest instincts among a wide swatch of disconnected and alienated lower income blue collar white voters, hard-right faithful, and a cross section of GOP leaning voters disgusted with party cronyism and business as usual Washington bureaucrats. They were the ones who stayed away from the polls in droves in 2008 and 2012. There were two keys to try and get them back. One was to pander hard to their fear and xenophobia of minorities, gays, immigrants and Muslims.
The other was to have someone willing to spew as much verbal bile at Obama as possible. Trump fit the bill. Stirring the pot on this issue closely tied in with the other issue that could get the juices flowing. That was illegal immigration. Trump again was the man. His slander of Latino immigrants as "criminals" and "rapists" got quiet nods among many, tons of media clips, and the crafting of him as a candidate not afraid to tell it like he saw it on an emotional issue no matter who it offended. It didn't much matter how much of a polarizing figure he was. He made stupendous copy, brought oceans of attention to the GOP, and suddenly made ultra conservatives cheer lustily for him. This helped make him the party’s top dog.
The Republican National Committee has publicly said that it will back whoever the GOP presidential nominee is. It has no choice, publicly anyway. The big question though for the GOP is how many others within the party will call on God as their witness and swear they won’t vote for Trump?
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is From Sanders to Trump: A Guide to the 2016 Presidential Primary Battles (Amazon Kindle) He is a frequent MSNBC contributor. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network