In the movie Gladiator, there is a scene between two Roman Senators, Falco and Gracchus, before a gladiator match in the Coliseum. The new Caesar of Rome, who killed his father to become Caesar, is using gladiator games to divert public attention away from poverty and his consolidation of power. Falco says he is surprised to see Gracchus attending gladiator matches with the common man away from the Senate. Gracchus replies:
Gracchus: I don’t pretend to be a man of the people. But I do try to be a man for the people.
Gracchus and Falco continue on and discuss the new Caesar using the fear and awe of gladiator battles to distract people:
Gracchus: Fear and wonder, a powerful combination.
Falco: You really think people are going to be seduced by that?
Gracchus: I think he knows what Rome is. Rome is the mob. Conjure magic for them and they’ll be distracted. Take away their freedom and still they’ll roar. The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the senate, it’s the sand of the coliseum. He’ll bring them death – and they will love him for it.
We are at a fulcrum in the 2016 Presidential Election. Donald Trump’s rise signals both a vacuum of leadership in Washington and a vote of no confidence by the people. In politics, voids are always filled. Trump is filling a leadership vacuum. Trump understands something the American political class does not, he understands America is a narrative driven world. He understands the mob mentality of the people. He understands people are clamoring for a gladiator fight after feeling disenfranchised and forgotten by the American political class. And so Trump plays on the fears of the people, attacking everything in modern American culture to raucous applause. Trump is dangerous. Trump will bring destruction to modern conservatism. A Trump nomination would end the Reagan Revolution and replace it with more Trump. Fear of anti-establishment backlash is no excuse for failure to act when your country is in desperate need of leadership. The Republican Party must become a leader for the people, not of them.
I write this as the last votes are counted in South Carolina’s Republican Primary. Despite delusional claims from Gov. John Kasich, this is now a three-man race between Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio, and Sen. Ted Cruz. Trump has victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina, after a close loss in Iowa. Sen. Rubio will finish 2nd in South Carolina after a third place finish in Iowa. Sen. Cruz won Iowa and finished in 3rd place in South Carolina. Exit polls showed Trump carried every major demographic in South Carolina. The most stunning group he carried was evangelicals. Given the large evangelical base in South Carolina, these voters gave Trump the edge he needed in South Carolina. Trump is a wolf in wolves clothing for an evangelical voter. The wolf carrying the sheep vote to applause is astonishing.
The question Republican voters are asking, and I know because my phone lit up non-stop as primary results posted, is where does the party go from here? The answer: Anyone but Trump. The race has moved beyond a simple race for the Presidency. Defeating the immoral and racist Trump is now a moral cause the Republicans must win.
Trump cannot become the Republican nominee for President of the United States.
How to stop Trump, then? There are several ways of accomplishing this goal. I suspect the Republican Party is using or will use the following seven steps to stop Trump:
First, narrow the field. We’ve already seen candidates drop out after the first three primary states. The problem is that the field has not shrunk enough. Former Gov. Jeb Bush dropping out last night is a start, but Dr. Ben Carson and Gov. John Kasich remain. The reason a smaller field is important is for voter consolidation. People need to be herded away from dead weight candidates and in with a person capable of beating Trump. Right now the only two candidates who have shown that ability are Cruz and Rubio. Eventually, one of them will have to drop or unite with the other to defeat Trump.
Second, dry up money to non-Trump candidates with no chance of survival. Carson and Kasich fit this bill. They have little money now. The Party needs to ensure major funding sources go towards Rubio and Cruz.
Third, block Trump from the debate stage. The Republicans announced a new debate to be held in Utah. Unless they believe Trump will be finished by the time Utah is in play, they should consider making this a two person debate between Rubio and Cruz. Trump thrives on TV airtime. Denying Trump oxygen to allow others to shine will help boost Rubio and Cruz.
Fourth, close out the caucus states to Trump supporters. Caucus states function differently from open primary states. There is no wide spread voting to allow Trump to dominate an open voting format. The party should look to push all delegates in caucus states to Rubio and Cruz and freeze out Trump supporters. If you don’t think this is possible, look at the Democrats freezing out Bernie Sanders in caucus states.
Fifth, prevent delegates with candidates who have dropped out to go to Trump. Delegates have been handed out to a number of candidates who are no longer in the race. These delegates cannot be allowed to walk free or go to Trump. The party should exert pressure to force these delegates to Rubio or Cruz. This means we need to see the former candidates endorsing candidates still in the race. A unified front against Trump is necessary.
Sixth, choose a candidate. A three-way race is better than five, but three still benefits Trump. Polling shows that if faced with Rubio or Cruz against Trump, they vote against Trump. Ideally, you can get voters to choose one candidate over the other. However, either Rubio or Cruz could decide to be hardheaded and not drop out. A candidate could use the threat of a Trump nomination to force the party to accept them. A Presidential game of chicken, whoever blinks first has to drop out. I truly hope this does not happen, because that means we have to move to the nuclear seventh option.
Seventh, a brokered convention. I won’t dwell on this very long. Suffice it to say, if we are in a situation where a brokered convention is a real possibility, that means candidates have purposely chosen not to drop out, giving Trump the edge he needs. The last time a brokered convention was a real possibility was 1976 for Republicans.
There are some who will read the list above and consider it a harsh set of plans. Understand, Trump is dangerous to conservatism, the party, and this country. If he wins, he will destroy Reagan’s legacy. It would take a second conservative revolution to restore the conservative revolution (it may already take that, but it will certainly take that with a Trump victory). If he wins, Trump would alienate voters, of all races and demographics. Nominating Trump is an abdication of leadership in the Republican Party. If he wins, Trump would be the worst form of leadership this nation has ever seen.
I do not believe everything from last night was bad news. I am heartened to see Republicans aware of the dangers Trump poses. The most notable stand coming from National Review. There is a pushback against Trump within the Republican Party. There is a ceiling to Trump’s support. But the only way to defeat that ceiling is to consolidate to a candidate capable of uniting the people against Trump and Clinton. Populist sentiment is running high on both sides of the political aisle. Leadership is required to control a growing populist mob. If leadership is not found, I fear this country will be seduced by a corrupt Caesar. What Republican leadership does in this election will echo for generations. As Reagan famously said, it is a time for choosing, “We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right.” May we choose wisely.
If we fail, at least let our children and our children’s children say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done.