Election 2016

Why Republicans Have Only Themselves to Blame If Trump Wins the Nomination

The GOP may have to adopt a few liberal philosophies to keep Trump from winning.

Photo Credit: a katz/Shutterstock

Republicans have only themselves to blame if Donald Trump wins the nomination. After the ostentatious billionaire won the New Hampshire primary, both Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina finally exited the contest for the Republican nomination. However, that still leaves five other contenders in the race against Trump to lead the Grand Old Party. Now, the very principles Republicans stand on may be preventing the party from dealing with the loudmouth billionaire they fear. In fact, the GOP may have to adopt a few liberal philosophies to keep Trump from winning their nomination.

Republicans were the ones who embraced the rise of the Tea Party, and the idea that a long background in public service was somehow a negative for political candidates. As I'll explain in a moment, it these views helped Ted Cruz become a United States senator and the only candidate who appears to have a reasonable chance of taking on the frontrunner. And that's not a good thing in the minds of many Republicans.

More importantly, back in 2010, it was the so-called conservatives who claimed that letting corporations and billionaires spend unlimited amounts of cash in our election cycle was a great win for free speech. That infamous Citizens United ruling has a lot to do with why the Grand Old Party has no grand plan to defeat the bombastic billionaire.

To make matters worse for Republicans, changes to their primary election rules and a general belief in “rugged individualism” haven't helped clear the field so one candidate can take on Trump. Despite all his hateful rhetoric and lack of any policy more detailed than a bumper sticker, it is these core Republican beliefs that are backfiring on the party and keeping Donald Trump in the lead in nearly every national poll.

If I haven't convinced you, let me explain.

First: The Ted Cruz Problem

After Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, Republican voters and congresspeople alike went nuts. Sure, some of them claimed to dislike his liberal policies, but many of them simply couldn't believe there was a black guy in the White House. That's why the Koch brothers and various special interest groups started legitimizing that outrage and backing the new “Tea Party Patriot” rallies that were popping up around the nation.

And when you combine a bunch of hard-right candidates with nearly a decade of Republican gerrymandering, you get an election like the 2010 midterms. All of a sudden, extreme views and inexperience became badges of honor among Republicans, and talking like an extremist was enough to make anyone popular among that crowd.

Thus, all Ted Cruz had to do was adopt an extreme set of right-wing talking points to secure the support of Tea Party groups like Americans For Prosperity, despite his background as a Canadian-born, Ivy-league graduate with more than a decade of government experience.

Cruz sailed to victory in the U.S. Senate, where he promptly butted heads with fellow Republicans and party leaders alike over anything voters could perceive as compromise. In other words, everyone in the Senate pretty much hated his grandstanding and nastiness immediately—and they still do.

Anyone with a computer will find no shortage of quotes by Republicans in Congress about how much they dislike the senator from Texas. So, the GOP is scrambling to find any candidate who can take on Trump, so long as that candidate is not Ted Cruz.

But that's not the only concern for Republicans.

Second: Republican Math Meets Ayn Rand

In addition to the “anyone-but-that-guy” problem of Ted Cruz, Republicans also face the flip-side of the “rugged individual” values that they so often embrace. Thanks to the changes that the RNC made to their primary rules in 2012, the remaining candidates must put the party before themselves and drop out to keep Trump from winning.

Right now, with seven candidates in the race, none of the actual politicians on the stage can rise enough in the polls to compete with Donald Trump.

As long as there are at least four candidates splitting the primary vote, Donald Trump only needs about 30 percent of the vote to obtain enough delegates to win the Republican nomination. (Wonks can find the math here.) The other candidates could quickly increase the chances for someone else to win by dropping out of the race, but that would require them to put their party ahead of their potential for higher speaking fees.

Ironically, the rule changes were supposed to prevent the “Republicans-eating-their-own” scenario that occurred when Mitt Romney faced too many primary challengers!

And, as we all know, Republicans don't typically embrace progressive ideas like putting the needs of the many before the greed of a few. After all, they are the party who continues to worship at the altar of Ayn Rand's "Virtue of Selfishness," and sticking with a failing campaign in the face of complete party destruction is pretty much the epitome of selfishness.

But, believe it or not, it gets even worse for Republicans.

The fact is, Ted Cruz, a crowded field and Ayn Rand's virtues are not even the RNC's biggest self-created problem. The real destroyer of the Republican Party will be the very campaign finance free-for-all they brought about by pushing for the 2010 Citizens United ruling.

Third: Trump Loves Citizens United

On Jan. 21, 2010, in a 5-to-4 decision with the five Republican justices on the winning side, the Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for Congress to pass or the president to sign into law any restrictions on the “right” of a corporation to pour money into political campaigns, so long as the money isn’t directly given to the politicians, their campaigns or their parties.

Remember, the Justices shaped their arguments around corporate campaign donations because super PACs hadn't yet taken over as the primary means by which billionaires could control the political process.

The majority decision, written by Justice Kennedy, was quite explicit in saying that the government has no right to limit corporate power or corporate “free speech.” Kennedy began this line of reasoning by positing, “Premised on mistrust of governmental power, the First Amendment stands against attempts to disfavor certain subjects or viewpoints.”

It sounds reasonable. He even noted, sounding almost like something from a Martin Luther King Jr or JFK speech, that:

By taking the right to speak from some and giving it to others, the Government deprives the disadvantaged person or class of the right to use speech to strive to establish worth, standing, and respect for the speaker’s voice. The Government may not by these means deprive the public of the right and privilege to determine for itself what speech and speakers are worthy of consideration.

But who is that “disadvantaged person or class” of whom Kennedy was speaking? He lays it out bluntly (the parts in single quotation marks are where he is quoting from previous Supreme Court decisions): “The Court has recognized that First Amendment protection extends to corporations....Under that rationale of these precedents, political speech does not lose First Amendment protection ‘simply because its source is a corporation.’”

In his very eloquent and pointed dissent, Stevens even waxed philosophical, asking a series of questions for which there couldn’t possibly be any clear or obvious answers given the Roberts court’s decision:

It is an interesting question “who” is even speaking when a business corporation places an advertisement that endorses or attacks a particular candidate. Presumably it is not the customers or employees, who typically have no say in such matters. It cannot realistically be said to be the shareholders, who tend to be far removed from the day-to-day decisions of the firm and whose political preferences may be opaque to management. Perhaps the officers or directors of the corporation have the best claim to be the ones speaking, except their fiduciary duties generally prohibit them from using corporate funds for personal ends. Some individuals associated with the corporation must make the decision to place the ad, but the idea that these individuals are thereby fostering their self-expression or cultivating their critical faculties is fanciful.

In other words, Justice Stevens worried about the rich and powerful individuals who could direct a corporation to support a particular idea or candidate. And now we know that the “who” Justice Stevens was curious about turned out to be billionaires and the super PACs they use to buy each candidate.

And, thanks to that Citizens United decision, and the super PACs and billionaires that came along with the ruling, the basic principle that a campaign ends when it runs out of money no longer applies.

Let's be real: Ben Carson and probably Jeb Bush know they will never be president, but as long as they've got a billionaire and a super PAC, they can just keep on campaigning. Unfortunately for Republicans and the rest of us who are sick of listening to Donald Trump, Justice Stevens could not have guessed that a foul-mouthed, fascist billionaire would take the party by storm any more than Reince Pribus could have when he said his new primary rules marked “a historic day” for his party.

If only they knew then what we know now.

Solution: Get a Little Liberal

As it stands today, the Republicans are reaping the not-so-sweet rewards of fighting for more extremism, more political maneuvering and a boatload more money in our political process. If they really want to take on Donald Trump, all they have to do is adopt a few liberal views. 

To weed out Tea Party lawmakers like Ted Cruz, Republicans must stop the hard-right extremism that helped him get elected. To strengthen an establishment candidate, a few of the also-rans must drop out, stop working for higher speaking fees and put the needs of their party before their own greed. 

And to restore the very basic logic that a candidate should stand an actual chance of winning, Republicans simply need to join progressives in our calls to get money out of the political process. If each candidate didn't have their own pet billionaire (or each billionaire have their own pet candidate, if we're being honest), the field would narrow and someone with some actual government experience could quite possibly take the lead.

It's simple. If the Republican Party wants a candidate who can compete with Trump, all they have to do is embrace a few liberal philosophies. I'm sure progressives everywhere are waiting to welcome them into the folds.

Thom Hartmann is an author and nationally syndicated daily talk show host. His newest book is "The Crash of 2016: The Plot to Destroy America — and What We Can Do to Stop It."

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