Byron York talks to right-wing billionaires to try to ascertain why they aren’t coordinating to take Donald Trump down. He comes up with five categories of explanation:
First, creating an organization and spending millions of dollars to carpet-bomb Trump with negative ads in key states isn’t easy; there aren’t many people who could pull it off. Second, some donors think an anti-Trump offensive not only would not work but would backfire on an already unpopular GOP establishment. Third, some who do believe it could work think it should not be attempted until Trump’s critics have agreed on an alternative candidate — which they haven’t. Fourth, the anti-Trump opposition can’t decide who should lead such an effort. And fifth, most GOP strategists and money movers continue to believe Trump will ultimately fail on his own, that in the end he will not be the Republican nominee.
I think we can safely ignore the first and fifth answers because they’re basically unresponsive. On the first, the premise of the question is that these billionaires could pull off a carpet-bombing of Trump but simply aren’t doing so. On the last, if a carpet-bombing is unnecessary, then what are we even debating?
The real explanation can be found in the second, third and fourth points. I am going to discuss them out of order.
The single biggest problem is that there are no acceptable alternatives to Trump. Jeb was supposed to be their guy but he just can’t get any traction. Scott Walker and Rick Perry have already dropped out. Ben Carson’s campaign is in free-fall. Chris Chistie was once a hot commodity with the billionaires, but the closing of the George Washington Bridge put an end to that romance. Marco Rubio has his Miami Vice problem, and if there is one thing that Jeb campaign has been largely successful at in this campaign, it has been warning big donors about the skeletons in Rubio’s closet. Other than Ted Cruz, that leaves no one with the finances, polling numbers, and potential to win that billionaires need to see before they get invested.
But Ted Cruz is so loathed by his colleagues in Congress and particularly in the Senate, that the billionaires would alienate the most powerful Republicans in the country if they started supporting him. To be sure, a handful of these Daddy Warbucks characters don’t care and are giving Cruz money, but they aren’t about to do it as a class.
When York talks about the billionaires’ inability to decide on someone who would lead the effort against Trump, part of that is that they can’t agree on who the effort should benefit.
The last piece of the puzzle is that these billionaires are at least self-aware enough to realize that they’re partly responsible for the Republican base turning to political outsiders and neophytes in this election cycle. The base is irate with the Establishment and any obvious effort by the Establishment to crush Trump or Cruz or anyone else could easily wind up doing the exact opposite and giving them a big boost.
I think what’s actually broken here is that the mainstream media isn’t trusted and the right-wing media is too diffuse to control. Even relatively controllable outlets like Fox News have created a credibility problem for themselves that inhibits their ability to prop up the Establishment and savage outsiders and insurgents.
The people voting in the Republican primaries aren’t receptive to messaging from even Fox News and they find the more rabid outfits more trustworthy and true to conservative principles.
That leaves saturation political advertising as the only alternative, but if that approach were still effective, Jeb would have seen some positive movement from all his ad buys.
The bottom line is that there are no alternatives to Trump who are obviously better bets. There’s no way to convince the base to go with a safer more electable choice because that choice doesn’t even exist. The base cannot be reached because no one controllable has credibility with them. And political advertising doesn’t work the way it used to.
There are no tools in the toolbox.
Yet, even if they had some tools, all this talk about stopping Trump is kind of irrelevant because no one better is standing in the wings.
The party has basically come apart.