Don’t look now, but Donald Trump is leading the delegate count for the Republican presidential nomination. While there’s still a little time for someone else to win the nomination, time is ticking and Republicans around the country are nervous — not just about losing the White House in a winnable race (again) but about losing seats in the Senate, House and state capitals across the country. If he wins the nomination, Republican candidates up and down every ticket will have to make a very difficult and calculated decision — are they with him or not?
Normally, aligning oneself with the chosen presidential candidate is a no brainer for most politicians and unite quickly once primary season has ended. In 1966 then-candidate Ronald Reagan said that the 11th commandment was “thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Fifty years later, many Republicans will still cite it when choosing to hold his/ her tongue. Trump presents a different challenge of course because he’s not been a particularly loyal Republican and he certainly does not live by Reagan’s words, calling his fellow candidates everything from “loser” to “wimp” and even something that can’t be printed here. He even said John McCain was “not a war hero.” Wow.
Of course Trump goes far beyond violating the 11th commandment and being “plain spoken” seems to be one of the things that voters are finding appealing about him, so the usual flubs (sexist remarks, racist comments, discussion of his body parts) don’t seem to have an impact on his popularity. Just think: a few years ago, Governor Rick Perry’s presidential campaign came undone because he momentarily forgot the name of a government office he wanted to eliminate. How things are different for the Donald!
While the GOP faithful are breathing into a bag and reminding themselves that “there’s still time,” the truth is that the clock is running out. After March 15th, many GOP primaries turn into “winner take most” allowing Trump to quickly build his lead in delegates. If he goes into the convention and has secured enough delegates to win, it would take a lot of maneuvering — and behind the scenes chicanery — to deny him the nomination.
If you caught Mitt Romney’s speech last week blasting Trump (and detonating the 11th commandment), you’d surmise that traditional Republicans (i.e. not Trumpublicans) were concerned about the future of the party with Trump as the nominee. What Romney knows is that polls show Trump can’t win the White House but his nomination would split the party and cause devastating losses in down-ticket races. For Republicans running for everything from governor to dog catcher, a Trump nomination could be a killer. In all states, candidates will be peppered by the obvious questions about what Trump says and whether or not they agree. Voters who might see Trump support as a litmus test (either way) for local races could make their decisions based solely on where that candidate stands vis-à-vis Trump. In some states — where moderate Republicans rely on ticket-splitting Democrats to win — Trump’s presence at the top of the ticket could mean having to pick between the Republican base and the Democrats that provide a win margin. That’s called a no-win situation and could be the reality for Republicans if Trump comes out on top.