After a week in which he told a Republican debate audience that George W. Bush lied America into the Iraq war, cheered killing Muslims with pig’s-blood bullets, and attacked the freaking pope, Donald “This Time He’s Gone Too Far” Trump won the South Carolina GOP primary by double digits and established himself as the Republican front-runner.
I’ll say it again: The Republican Party will never allow a Trump nomination. But it’s fun to see how each new threat of it flips out our friends, the rightbloggers.
As I’ve mentioned previously, the brethren’s attitude toward Trump has progressed from ambivalence to terror, and by now they’re less inclined toward optimistic predictions and more inclined toward existential dread.
The candidates themselves were upbeat in the days before the primary, of course. Ted Cruz stirred the electorate with his opposition to gluten-free MREs and support of the Confederate flag. His campaign also came after Marco Rubio with a flyer showing the Florida senator’s face merging with that of President Obama like Harvey Dent in Batman comics. And Cruz claimed to be the only Republican who could beat Trump.
Rubio got a Rainbow Coalition of Conservatives of Color to endorse him, for which he was hailed in the press: “Marco Rubio Hits Inclusive Notes With Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, Trey Gowdy at Side” (Wall Street Journal); “Rubio Endorsement Rally Shows a More Diverse Vision for GOP” (Time), etc. He also regularly called Cruz a liar and insisted that he, not Cruz, was the man to beat Trump.
Some of the brethren also tried to accentuate the positive (“Trump Collapsing in South Carolina” — Some Guy at RedState; “Expect a Big Surprise from Marco Rubio Today” — Some Other Guy at RedState). But many others became alternately maudlin and panicky, like the TV news crew in Dawn of the Dead.
Cliff Kincaid of Accuracy in Media, for example, said that “Trump ought to be running in the Democratic presidential primary, perhaps to the left of Hillary Clinton.” Why isn’t he, then, you might ask? “Conservatives who should know better went beyond praising his attacks on political correctness to welcoming him as a legitimate conservative candidate for president,” explained Kincaid. Ah, so he thinks they’re suckers, too; amazing how many people are coming to that conclusion.
Father Dwight Longenecker, who a few years ago cheerfully endorsed the anti-gay Chick-fil-A buycott (“Yesterday’s Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day was the sort of ‘revolt’ this country needs”), was disturbed by the Trump-pope incident: “This whole thing could turn very nasty very fast,” wrote Longenecker, “and if Trump were to be elected president, the Catholics could well be among the crowd he chooses to pinpoint as ‘the Enemy.’ ” Not so much fun on the other side of the mob, huh, Padre?
Some of the brethren started bargaining with fate early. “If Trump takes less than [sic] 210,000 votes, even if he wins 35 percent and most of the counties, even though he’ll have a good-sized delegate lead headed into the ‘SEC Primary,’ he’s still stoppable,” reasoned Steve Berman at Erick Erickson’s the Resurgent. (Trump won 239,851 votes and was awarded all 50 South Carolina delegates.)
After the votes were counted, Marco Rubio declared himself (as is his wont) a winner, and called his team “the children of the Reagan Revolution,” which in context reminds me less of Marc Bolan than of Stephen King. National Review’s Eliana Johnson did her bit, declaring that “with a second-place finish in South Carolina, Rubio has demonstrated resilience” and other inspirational independent clauses. Her column also featured this interesting graf:
At her first joint appearance with Rubio, Haley introduced [Rubio] as the next president of the United States. “Let’s go to the polls on Saturday and move them down the way,” she said. On Saturday, the people of South Carolina did just that.
“Move them down the way” means “mostly vote for someone else,” I guess. Ted Cruz didn’t get as much post-primary back-patting — though NR‘s Jeremy Carl found Cruz the “best-organized candidate” in the race — but at least he had Glenn Beck‘s call for a nationwide fast on his behalf. Rightbloggers had only their imaginations and increasingly sketchy electoral strategies.
“They didn’t call it for Trump as soon as the cap lifted, so he probably didn’t capture as much of the evangelical vote as was being predicted early,” consoled Jazz Shaw at a Hot Air open thread.
“I could just as easily titled this [sic] ‘The Death of Conservatism,’ because that’s what the results out of South Carolina mean,” moped Steve Eggleston at Da Tech Guy. He found some “good news,” though: “the GOP’s Next In Line principle…appears to be finally dead.” No more John McCains — there’s a silver lining!
National Review’s Jonah Goldberg aired his confusion in “A Dozen Thoughts About Tonight,” in the manner of Jack Handey’s. My favorite: “4. Evangelical voters in the past were arguably too judgmental. Now, they’ve gone the other way.”
Some remained combative. Leon H. Wolf at RedState reminded readers that Trump “has less than 5 percent of the delegates he needs to win the nomination” and suggested a villain other than South Carolina GOP voters: “the clueless media, who are desperate for the continuation of the Trump-driven ratings boost they have received…” The media! I thought they were all in the tank for the Democrats. Well, you learn something new every day.
Trump rubbed salt in rightbloggers’ wounds on Sunday morning by doubling down on a health care plan that sounds suspiciously socialistic by conservative standards (“We’re not going to let people die in squalor because we are Republicans, OK?” Try to imagine Ted Cruz saying that!). He also suggested, as he had earlier done with Cruz (and, way before that, Obama), that Rubio wasn’t eligible to be president.
Downscale rightbloggers, who had stuck with Trump after the premium bloggers bailed, were delighted, naturally, but remained wary of the hated Republican establishment: “Yes, the GOPe would rather lose to Hillary and retain their place at the trough than to see entry into their cloistered club by the Vulgarian Donald Trump,” warned The Last Refuge. “Just a Reminder, this is an insurgency. — The modern enemy of Wall Street is Main Street vulgarians. The enemy of the RNC/GOPe is not Democrats, it’s Grassroots Conservatives, more vulgarians,” etc.
That cowboy ain’t wrong about the GOP, but how are they going to stop Trump? Some rightbloggers dreamed of salvation by noble sacrifice — someone else’s, of course. John Podhoretz wished some of the stragglers would drop out for the good of the party and seemed to lean toward Rubio as their beneficiary (“[Rubio] roared back from a disaster in New Hampshire, is the most fluent and most likable candidate in the field, and as in Iowa, outperformed the polls”). Berman at the Resurgent, meantime, called for Rubio to defer to Cruz. “I know, that hurts,” he sighed. “I like Rubio and hate to see a good man (a real Tea Party conservative) have to be the lamb to slaughter. But if Rubio takes second or effectively ties Cruz, things are much less clear going forward.”
At Britain’s Daily Telegraph, Matt K. Lewis also called for a Rubio-Cruz ticket and didn’t care which end was up (“because really, it is long past time to hit the ‘panic’ button”). How would that be determined in real life, I wonder — by an Iowa coin-toss, or a Nevada card draw? Or a failure of nerve? Republicans are all about the free market, and with only 94 Republican delegates settled out of 1,237 needed to nominate, there’s little motivation for Cruz, Rubio, or Trump to settle.
This will all end in collapse — either the Republican Party’s or the nation’s. Meantime, ain’t it fun?