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A.B. Stoddard: Too little, too late on Trump

We can all see that members of the GOP establishment are in dire need of a stiff drink. But they sure do look like rookies showing up after last call.

After Donald Trump dominated polling for the party’s presidential nomination in at least 49 states for half a year, Republican stalwarts have finally awoken to the reality of the Never Sleeping giant — but only after he won in Nevada last week. Trump had already conquered races in New Hampshire and South Carolina, but it seemed his Silver State victory — where the real estate mogul collected more votes than both the second- and third-place finishers combined — was a win too far. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told The New York Times a few days ago, “I finally got scared last night.”

{mosads}Up through the caucuses in Iowa, when Trump lost to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, establishment Republicans remained complacent or paralyzed. They were ignorant of the voter rage that fuels Trump’s campaign, they were confident everyone would get “serious,” not to mention the numerous and glaring liabilities of the billionaire businessman, who has earned the highest unfavorable ratings of anyone running for president in modern history.

Competing Republican presidential campaigns figured that surely some other candidate would eventually take him on, and donors were scared all along. According to Katie Packer, who worked on Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign and launched the first assault against Trump with her Our Principles PAC, $215 million was spent by Republicans on ads and voter contact before Nevada’s contest last week, and of that $9 million — about 4 percent — was directed at Trump. 

In a Super Tuesday scramble, seeing Trump take down state after state, several GOP business leaders organized a call to urge donors to back Our Principles PAC, joining the urgency of the en masse #NeverTrump movement that has brought numerous Republican elected officials to say publicly they won’t vote for him if he wins the nomination.

Yet after the Super Tuesday contests the GOP race still features four candidates who are greasing the tracks for Trump. Cruz won three states and wants the others out. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio won only one state but is vowing to stay in and is blaming both and Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich for underperforming. While Rubio looks to friendlier states on the calendar this spring, he has less than two weeks to win Florida, where no one shares the winner-take-all prize of 99 delegates and Trump is ahead in the polls.

The anti-Trump forces are largely aligned behind Rubio and are pressuring him to keep soldiering on for a convention fight. BuzzFeed News reported Tuesday that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has grown frustrated with Kasich and will likely urge him to get out. Kasich’s campaign, of course, notes that the governor has a better shot at winning his home state of Ohio than Rubio does in Florida. Polls show he is also Democrat Hillary Clinton’s strongest general election challenger. Yet on Tuesday, Ben Carson, who on Wednesday conceded he “doesn’t see a path forward,” beat Kasich in six states and tied with him in another two. Read that again. 

Meanwhile Democrats are laughing at the GOP. Though they acknowledge Trump could beat Clinton, they mock Republicans’ recalcitrance on the GOP front-runner as “political malpractice.” Opposition research against Romney for the 2012 cycle began in 2009, and the Clinton campaign is busy at work assembling a broad assault against Trump for the fall.

Some questioned whether there was a GOP establishment. But behold its members, crawling out into the daylight, pledging #NeverTrump. And they came out in full force to stop the daughter of a two-term GOP vice president from running against a sitting senator in a Wyoming primary in 2014. Liz Cheney was pounded on publicly and privately, but stopping a controversial reality star hasn’t been a priority for the Republican Party — until now that it’s too late.


Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Jeff Flake Marco Rubio Mitch McConnell Ted Cruz

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