A.B. Stoddard: Too little, too late on Trump

A.B. Stoddard: Too little, too late on Trump

We can all see that members of the GOP establishment are in dire need of a stiff drink. But they sure do look like rookies showing up after last call.

After Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDems flip Wisconsin state Senate seat Sessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants GOP rep: 'Sheet metal and garbage' everywhere in Haiti MORE dominated polling for the party’s presidential nomination in at least 49 states for half a year, Republican stalwarts have finally awoken to the reality of the Never Sleeping giant — but only after he won in Nevada last week. Trump had already conquered races in New Hampshire and South Carolina, but it seemed his Silver State victory — where the real estate mogul collected more votes than both the second- and third-place finishers combined — was a win too far. Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press Bipartisan group to introduce DACA bill in House Flake's anti-Trump speech will make a lot of noise, but not much sense MORE (R-Ariz.) told The New York Times a few days ago, “I finally got scared last night.”

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Up through the caucuses in Iowa, when Trump lost to Texas Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWith religious liberty memo, Trump made America free to be faithful again Interstate compacts aren't the right way to fix occupational licensing laws Texas Dem: ‘I don’t know what to believe’ about what Trump wants for wall MORE, establishment Republicans remained complacent or paralyzed. They were ignorant of the voter rage that fuels Trump’s campaign, they were confident everyone would get “serious,” not to mention the numerous and glaring liabilities of the billionaire businessman, who has earned the highest unfavorable ratings of anyone running for president in modern history.

Competing Republican presidential campaigns figured that surely some other candidate would eventually take him on, and donors were scared all along. According to Katie Packer, who worked on Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign and launched the first assault against Trump with her Our Principles PAC, $215 million was spent by Republicans on ads and voter contact before Nevada’s contest last week, and of that $9 million — about 4 percent — was directed at Trump. 

In a Super Tuesday scramble, seeing Trump take down state after state, several GOP business leaders organized a call to urge donors to back Our Principles PAC, joining the urgency of the en masse #NeverTrump movement that has brought numerous Republican elected officials to say publicly they won’t vote for him if he wins the nomination.

Yet after the Super Tuesday contests the GOP race still features four candidates who are greasing the tracks for Trump. Cruz won three states and wants the others out. Florida Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Cybersecurity: Bipartisan bill aims to deter election interference | Russian hackers target Senate | House Intel panel subpoenas Bannon | DHS giving 'active defense' cyber tools to private sector Senators unveil bipartisan push to deter future election interference Puerto Rico's children need recovery funds MORE won only one state but is vowing to stay in and is blaming both and Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich for underperforming. While Rubio looks to friendlier states on the calendar this spring, he has less than two weeks to win Florida, where no one shares the winner-take-all prize of 99 delegates and Trump is ahead in the polls.

The anti-Trump forces are largely aligned behind Rubio and are pressuring him to keep soldiering on for a convention fight. BuzzFeed News reported Tuesday that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit MORE has grown frustrated with Kasich and will likely urge him to get out. Kasich’s campaign, of course, notes that the governor has a better shot at winning his home state of Ohio than Rubio does in Florida. Polls show he is also Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonIntel Dem decries White House 'gag order' after Bannon testimony 'Total free-for-all' as Bannon clashes with Intel members Mellman: On Political Authenticity (Part 2) MORE’s strongest general election challenger. Yet on Tuesday, Ben Carson, who on Wednesday conceded he “doesn’t see a path forward,” beat Kasich in six states and tied with him in another two. Read that again. 

Meanwhile Democrats are laughing at the GOP. Though they acknowledge Trump could beat Clinton, they mock Republicans’ recalcitrance on the GOP front-runner as “political malpractice.” Opposition research against Romney for the 2012 cycle began in 2009, and the Clinton campaign is busy at work assembling a broad assault against Trump for the fall.

Some questioned whether there was a GOP establishment. But behold its members, crawling out into the daylight, pledging #NeverTrump. And they came out in full force to stop the daughter of a two-term GOP vice president from running against a sitting senator in a Wyoming primary in 2014. Liz Cheney was pounded on publicly and privately, but stopping a controversial reality star hasn’t been a priority for the Republican Party — until now that it’s too late.

 

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.