Paul Waldman: The unification of Republicans around Trump has begun

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Ted Cruz supporters may be opposed to Donald Trump now, but it could be a different situation in November. Photo / AP
Ted Cruz supporters may be opposed to Donald Trump now, but it could be a different situation in November. Photo / AP

As everyone knows, the GOP is a party at war with itself, riven by resentments and anger, destined to be divided all the way to November. Right?

Well maybe not so much. The resentments and anger are still there, and it surely is an unhappy band of allies.

But the unification of the Republican Party around Donald Trump has begun.

With Trump winning Indiana, pretty much everyone will declare the primary campaign over, and the question of whether to unite around Trump or take a noble stand against him will become less abstract and more immediate for Republicans than it has been up until now.

Neither path is an easy one, but for most people, whether elected officials, party insiders, or conservative commentators, it makes more sense to get behind Trump, even if you've been opposed to him until now.

That's why, for instance, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, one of the key voices of the elite Republican "establishment" and a consistent critic of Trump until now, today urges its readers to swallow their pride, not be tempted by a third-party bid, and get on the Trump train even if he's destined to lose:

"The GOP would have a hard enough time recovering from a third-straight presidential loss. The last thing the party needs is an excuse for Mr Trump and his allies to blame a defeat on a "stab in the back" by other Republicans. That's a recipe for more civil war and another fiasco in 2020. If Mr Trump does lose, his voters need to understand that he was the architect of his own demise. Republican voters also need to see that alienating non-whites, women and young people was a losing strategy. . . . "

That's not exactly a ringing endorsement. In fact, it represents the least a Republican can do: not necessarily work hard for Trump, but at least not oppose him actively.

Meanwhile, Republican voters are coming around, too. His support in primary polls has continued to rise, and it has now crossed 50 per cent in the Huffpo/Pollster average. Gallup shows his favourability among Republicans trending up while Ted Cruz's is falling.

Not that Republicans are confident they'll be united. In a new CNN poll, for instance, 49 per cent of Republicans say their party will be divided in November. But that's essentially an assessment of what people think other people are going to do - which is naturally influenced by all the talk in the media about the split within the party.

In any case, as much as so many Republicans might sincerely dislike Trump and think he's bad for their party, getting behind him is, for most of them, the rational thing to do.

Let's say you're a Republican member of Congress. You read the polls and see that a majority of your constituents are supporting Trump. And once the primaries are over and Trump is the nominee, the number of Republicans supporting him won't be 50 per cent, it'll be 80 per cent or higher. Not only would going against their wishes threaten your job, you'll have a tough time explaining why it would be better if Hillary Clinton were president.

That's the choice Republicans will now be faced with: not Trump versus another of the GOP presidential candidates, not Trump versus an unnamed perfect Republican, but Trump versus Clinton. That eventuality is why so many elected Republicans have criticised Trump but then said sheepishly that they'll support the nominee of their party, whoever it turns out to be. They knew where this was headed.

You can argue that for many of them it might actually be better if Clinton wins.

Being the opposition during the Obama years has been pretty good for not just congressional Republicans but for those at the state level too.

They can spend the next four years shaking their fists at the White House and wait for a true conservative to lead them to the promised land in 2020 (I can think of a certain Texas senator who's already planning his next campaign).

But even if they believe that, they can't say out loud that they're hoping for Trump to lose. Instead, they'll say that although he wasn't their first choice, what's most important is that the party unite to stop Clinton.

So in the coming days, we'll see a range of responses from Republicans to Trump's nomination.

At one end, from those like the Wall Street Journal editorial board - who don't have to risk losing their jobs if Trump goes down to a landslide defeat - there will be a grudging acceptance.

Elected Republicans will more clearly urge their constituents to vote for Trump, and many will even convince themselves that a Trump presidency could be terrific for the advancement of conservative goals.

After all, isn't President Trump going to sign the bills they send him? And who's going to fill those thousands of executive branch positions, if not the same Republicans with policy expertise who would have under a President Cruz or a President Rubio?

By the time we get to November, the divisions of the primary campaign won't be forgotten, but they'll be set aside so that the more urgent goal of stopping Clinton can be served. That, more than anything having to do with Donald Trump, is what will finally unite the GOP. At least until election day, after which they can start fighting with each other again.

- Waldman is a senior writer at The American Prospect.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- Washington Post

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