It’s hard not to laugh about the situation in which the Republican Party finds itself. It beats crying.
Three years ago, the GOP spent gobs of time, money and effort determining that outreach to women and Hispanics was key to the party’s future.
If there are two constituencies that the presumptive Republican nominee for president has alienated more than the aforementioned demographic categories, I am unaware of them. (Muslims may disagree.)
Donald Trump’s claim that a federal judge of Mexican descent couldn’t be impartial in a fraud suit filed against the defunct Trump University was akin to bulldozing a bridge that you’d just finished bombing.
Then he doubled down, tripled down — stomp, stomp, stomp. Again, you have to laugh. The situation is so ironic, so perverse.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m rooting for the GOP in the long run. It continues to represent the best hope for the country, as far as I’m concerned. But it may need to first wander down this serpentine path of populism. This wasn’t in the Republican National Committee’s master plan, but in the end it may actually be helpful.
On Tuesday, I improbably found myself at Trump’s primary night news conference in Briarcliff Manor. Trump National Golf Club is a beautiful course tucked into the verdant hills of Westchester County, and the hospitality that Trump and his staff showed their guests couldn’t have been warmer or more professional.
As a detractor of Trump, I felt guilty being there (I was accompanying a client), but I am more than glad that I went. It gave me a chance to get a better feel for ardent Trump supporters, and, in truth, it was therapeutic being around people bully about America’s future, even if I don’t share their confidence in the GOP candidate.
The clear teleprompter panels in the club’s ballroom announced long before Trump arrived that this was not to be a rambling address. These were the trappings of a disciplined campaign event. And it was.
Friends later said the comparative optics between the Trump address and the Hillary Clinton victory rally in Brooklyn that night made Clinton the day’s clear winner (his crowd was small and seated; hers was vast, standing and cheering), but from inside the room I thought Trump killed it. It was the best speech I’ve heard him give, and he seemed finally to be getting the hang of the teleprompter.
But it was the message that resonated. For the first time, it was uncorrupted by insults or meanderings, and it hit home: Special interests have ruined America, and we the people are going to set the country free of them. The fact that there is so much truth to that charge — so much visceral resentment against corporate, union and political America — makes Trump’s core message downright intoxicating when purely delivered.
As Trump spoke, I whispered to the man sitting next to me, “If he can stay on the prompter, he’s going to sweep.” And that’s the core question facing the Republican Party now: Can Trump stay on a teleprompter? Can he stay disciplined, or will he keep making racist, sexist comments that will bury the GOP for a generation, or forever?
History virtually guarantees that Trump cannot hold his tongue. And on Wednesday, he told the news media that he has no plans to change his style.
It’s no wonder, then, that some top Republicans are whispering again about a floor fight at July’s convention in Cleveland, however unlikely the success of one might be. One or two more outrages from Trump, and a delegate fight is almost guaranteed.
Beneath all of this, though, there is a message, a good message. And it’s not just for white people. Maybe the remnants of the Republican Party can do something with it starting in 2017.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.