Daniel Larison

The Strange Idea of a Romney Protest Candidacy

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Reihan Salam has a bad idea about who should run an anti-Trump protest campaign:

I am increasingly convinced that Mitt Romney, Trump’s most scathing Republican critic, is the man for that particular job. Romney is known for his risk aversion, and it is admittedly difficult to imagine the GOP’s 2012 standard-bearer launching an independent campaign. Running as a third-party candidate would be expensive, and to say that Romney would be an underdog would be an understatement. Romney has already exposed himself and his family to intense scrutiny and the exhausting grind of a presidential campaign on two occasions, so his loved ones would surely question his sanity. By standing against Trump, he would invite a level of vitriol that would make his last bid for the presidency look like a breeze. Nevertheless, Romney should run. And if he were to run as himself—a pragmatic problem solver with a long record of success in business and in government—there is a chance, albeit a slim one, that he might actually succeed.

I won’t deny that it would be entertaining to have Romney to kick around for another election campaign, but this is bizarre. The exercise would be futile, since it would only make Clinton’s victory that much more likely, and it would be a humiliating experience for the former Republican nominee. Romney lost in 2012, but there is not that much shame in losing to an incumbent president in a year when the challenger was supposed to lose. Choosing to run as a protest candidate in an election that the GOP is already likely to lose would make Romney a laughingstock and an enabler of Clinton when it is completely unnecessary. It’s no secret that I don’t like Romney, but even he doesn’t deserve to be drafted into such a fruitless effort.

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The Futility of an Anti-Trump Protest Campaign

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Eliot Cohen has an idea:

It is time for a third candidate, and probably for a third party.

Some people will dismiss this notion as absurd. However, only those prescient enough to have forecast Trump’s success have the standing to certify impossibilities. If the Trump candidacy has blown up every other aspect of political conventional wisdom, why not this one?

If anti-Trump Republicans want to split off and run their own candidate, they are free to do so. However, they should do this with the understanding that their protest will amount to very little, and they will allow Trump and his supporters to blame them for his defeat. It is more than a little amusing that the anti-Trump protest idea is being supported by otherwise reliable Republican partisans who would normally mock and deride third-party voters for wasting their votes. I won’t say that about an anti-Trump protest candidacy, but I will say that they are helping to let to Trump off the hook for what most assume will be a failed general election campaign. Trump’s die-hard Republican opponents don’t need to go to the trouble of running a third-party candidate or taking over an existing third party nomination to keep Trump from being president. They can do that simply by not voting for him. Just by withholding their support, committed anti-Trump Republicans can get what they want while letting Trump take the fall for losing in November. If they go through with a protest candidacy, they will more than likely just embarrass themselves and destroy the political career of whichever hapless person they convince to accept the role of sacrificial lamb.

Cohen falls back on an increasingly common lazy argument to make his case: if Trump has proven conventional wisdom wrong in some things, then we can apparently discount everything we think we know about presidential elections. No one actually thinks a third-party candidate has a chance of winning or even competing in a general election. The structure of our system all but guarantees that minor party candidates have no chance. Nothing about Trump’s success in the primaries changes any of that. The fact that no one thought Trump could compete for the GOP nomination doesn’t mean that an anti-Trump protest candidate has a chance to do well in the fall. One has nothing to do with the other.

He anticipates the danger that Clinton will claim a “mandate” from her election win, and argues that this is why a protest candidacy is worthwhile:

Even if a third candidacy still yielded a Clinton victory, it would be worthwhile. It would, first, deny the Clinton campaign the illusion of a mandate from American voters who would have, en masse, turned out to reject Trump. If nothing else, a strong third-candidate vote would send her a message to govern from the center, rather than in deference to her party’s increasingly powerful left wing.

This is fantastical. If Clinton defeats her major party opponent by a wide margin, which a protest anti-Trump candidacy makes more likely, she will claim a “mandate” and the protest candidacy will have made it easier for her to do so. There isn’t going to be a “strong” protest candidate from the right, who can probably count on at most 8-10% in a general election. An anti-Trump protest candidate will increase Clinton’s margin of victory. If Trump’s opponents don’t care about that or are willing to take that chance, they should proceed with their protest campaign. But they shouldn’t start out with the faulty assumption that they are helping to rein in Clinton or keep her in check. They are doing just the opposite, because they are making it easier for her to win without moving to the center at all.

Cohen continues:

A third candidate could lay the groundwork for a new political party.

I suppose he could, but what would be the purpose of that new party? To represent the bankrupt, Bush-era GOP agenda that even most Republicans are tired of supporting? To split the center-right vote for years or decades to come, and thereby virtually guarantee Democratic victories in future elections? How many people would stick with this party once Trump has been defeated? Why would they bother? It doesn’t make any sense.

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Cruz Joins the Surrender Caucus

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Ted Cruz has dropped out of the presidential race:

Crushed in the Indiana primary he had declared would decide the fate of the Republican presidential campaign, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on Tuesday night ended his presidential campaign, essentially ceding the nomination to front-runner Donald Trump.

There would have been no point in continuing to campaign after getting blown out tonight, but it is still a little surprising that Cruz would throw in the towel before the last few primaries are over. Cruz has liked to present himself as a stalwart of movement conservatism, and he has routinely mocked his colleagues for belonging to what he called the “surrender caucus” when they didn’t want to do as he wished. In the end, Cruz was just as ready to surrender when presented with a hopeless situation. He will end the 2016 race as the runner-up to Trump, but he has burned so many bridges along the way that it is doubtful that he has much of a chance in four years.

Several months ago, I said that Cruz wouldn’t be the Republican nominee this year. I had underestimated how competitive he would be in the primaries, but I was confident that his habit of making enemies out of potential allies and alienating most of the people he worked with would come back to haunt him. As it turned out, his scorched-earth approach to dealing with people in his own party meant that there were very few willing to endorse him or stick their necks out for him when he needed help. He went much farther in this race than anyone thought he would, but he couldn’t have done much better than he did because he was ultimately nothing more than the factional candidate of a bloc of very conservative and evangelical voters.

There simply weren’t enough of those voters to propel him to victory in most places, and he ended up being no more successful than Rick Santorum was when he challenged Romney. In many ways, he and Santorum are two of a kind: fanatical, earnest, and personally off-putting. Even when you want to agree with them on an issue, something about them makes you look for reasons not to. The traits that make them appealing to a faction of Republicans is what makes everyone else distrust and dislike them. But Cruz somehow managed to make himself even less likable. Cruz was perceived to be a much more calculating and opportunistic politician than Santorum, and that reputation for cynicism and self-serving maneuvering further hurt his cause. Gallup found that Cruz’s favorability with Republicans had turned negative over the last few weeks:

Trend: Ted Cruz's Image Among Republicans/Leaners

The strange thing here isn’t that Cruz became so unpopular even with Republicans, but that there were ever so many that viewed him favorably. His knack for turning his political allies against him finally caught up with him. The only wonder is that it took this long for most Republicans to realize how awful he was.

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Indiana Results

Marc Nozell/Flickr, Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Like the primaries last week, the Indiana Republican primary was a walkover for Trump. Trump has won the state as expected, and he appears to have won it decisively. With just 12% reporting, he leads Cruz by 20 points, 53-33%. The CNN exit poll suggests that he will end up with more than half the vote. He is very likely to come away with all of the state’s 57 delegates, and if surveys from California are to be believed he is on track to win going away there a month from now. Tonight’s result confirmed that die-hard anti-Trump Republicans are a minority of the GOP.

As usual, Trump did best with non-college degree holders and older voters. He trounced Cruz among those with $100K+ incomes by 26 points, and led Cruz by 11 with those earning between $30K and $50K. Cruz came close among voters that earned between $50K and $100K, but still lose them by 5. Trump’s support from different ideological groups followed a familiar pattern: he received a fair amount of support from very conservative voters (41%), and then dominated among the somewhat conservative (54%) and moderate ones (61%). Cruz won the first group, but it made up just a third of the electorate, while just the somewhat conservative voters made up almost half (44%).

If Cruz was counting on the state’s evangelicals to rescue him, he was disappointed: Trump beat him with evangelicals by five points, and then won with non-evangelicals by 26. Cruz’s support continues to be as narrow and concentrated in one section of the party as Trump’s is broad and spread out. Trump won in every region, but unsurprisingly received the most support from the old industrial areas in the northwestern part of the state. As he often has, Trump lost late-deciders, but had built up such a large lead with the majority that decided their vote earlier that it didn’t matter.

On the question of whether they feel betrayed by Republican politicians, 52% said yes and 44% said no, but Trump won both groups by double digits. Among those that named electability as the most important candidate quality, Trump also won more than half. He did far better among the fifth of voters that care most about a candidate who “tells it like it is” (87%) and the third that care most about a candidate who can “bring change” (63%). The committed anti-Trump contingent in the primary just 25% of the electorate. Asked what they would do if Trump is the nominee, more than half said they would definitely vote for him and a fifth said they would probably do. There were more respondents that said they wouldn’t vote for Cruz or Kasich than said this of Trump. That has been one of the key weaknesses of the anti-Trump Republicans’ efforts: the alternative candidates are even less well-liked by the voters than Trump is.

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The GOP Begins to Make Peace with a Trump Nomination

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Byron York reports on the magical thinking behind the grudging acceptance of Trump by some leading Republicans:

“Trump does bring a little magic to this in that he could shuffle the traditional battleground map,” one former presidential campaign manager told me. “I haven’t seen any data on that, but I’m just getting a feeling that he’s going to put a couple of Midwestern states in play [bold mine-DL].”

This is the sort of thing that someone says when he’s trying to convince himself of something he knows to be false. There’s not really any evidence to support this view, and this person doesn’t even pretend that there’s any evidence for it, but he has a “feeling” that Trump can bring a “little magic” to the election. It is much more likely that if the “traditional battleground map” is altered this year, it will be because states that are normally Republican-leaning will become toss-ups and former swing states will become Democratic-leaning ones. When his supporters say that Trump will shake up the electoral map, they are correct, but their expectation of how the map will look in November is wrong.

Take Florida, example. One new survey finds that Clinton leads in the state by double digits over both Trump and Cruz, and Trump trails by slightly more (49-36%). Florida should be one of the most closely contested states in a general election (Romney lost it by 1 point in 2012), but at the moment Clinton is easily running away with it. Let’s suppose that the Republican nominee makes up some of that gap over the next few months. It still isn’t going to be enough to make him competitive in the fall. Among Cuban Floridians, Trump’s favorability is -60. No Republican is going to win the state with numbers like that, and it seems extremely unlikely that Trump is going to repair his image with these voters in the next six months. If any leading Republicans think that Trump has a realistic shot at winning the election with ratings like that, they are kidding themselves.

One reason why some leading Republicans are reconciling themselves to Trump’s nomination is that they can’t stand Cruz. Another reason is that they have probably decided that the election is lost anyway, and they would rather lose it with Trump, because they can more easily disavow him when it is over. Cruz is a factional candidate, which is why he hasn’t been able to do better in the nomination contest, but that also means that he will have a more organized bloc of supporters in the years to come when the election is over. Faced with the one-off fluke of a Trump nomination or the ongoing headache of a Cruz-inspired faction, more and more leading Republicans are prepared to accept the former.

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Will’s Plan for Saving the GOP By Destroying It

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George Will has a rather odd plan for dealing with a Trump nomination:

Were he to be nominated, conservatives would have two tasks. One would be to help him lose 50 states [bold mine-DL] — condign punishment for his comprehensive disdain for conservative essentials, including the manners and grace that should lubricate the nation’s civic life. Second, conservatives can try to save from the anti-Trump undertow as many senators, representatives, governors and state legislators as possible [bold mine-DL].

Conservatives can certainly do one or the other, but they cannot do both of these. If some conservatives are determined to inflict the most crushing defeat possible on Trump, that effectively means doing the same to the rest of the party. If they want to do their best to salvage what they can in Congressional and state elections, they’ll have to do what they can to shore up the top of the ticket. It is unlikely that one can call for intra-party fratricide on one part of the ballot without depressing overall turnout for that party. Put another way, one cannot strengthen “the anti-Trump undertow” without putting more Republican officeholders at risk of being pulled under by it. Punishing Trump will inevitably mean punishing the party’s other candidates. Anti-Trump Republicans don’t want to own up that this is what they are calling for, but it is.

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The Real Danger in 2016

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Noah Millman points us to Andrew Sullivan’s essay on Trump and democracy. Sullivan says this of Trump:

In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an extinction-level event.

Whatever else Trump may be, he doesn’t threaten our political system with extinction. For one thing, this gives Trump far too much credit, and underestimates how much resistance he would encounter. Sullivan says that “the defenses against him would be weak” if he became president, but that seems obviously wrong. In the unlikely event that he is somehow elected in the fall, he would be stuck with a splintered GOP (a large portion of which openly hates him), probably at least one chamber controlled by the other party, and an intensely hostile media. He wouldn’t be able to do much, and what he did do would come under close scrutiny. One of the ongoing and worsening problems in our politics is that the president is rarely checked by any of our other institutions, but if we had a president that inspired no loyalty or deference from most Americans that might start to change. Most presidents can count on reliable support from their own partisans, but a President Trump would have poisoned relations with much of the Congressional GOP from day one. I assume Trump would govern badly, or at least ineffectively, and would be voted out after one term. In that sense, Trump’s election might even have a salutary effect on our politics in that it would remind more Americans that we shouldn’t cede so much power to any one person or branch of the government. But we’re not going to find out, because a Trump victory in the fall is extremely unlikely.

I’ve been pointing out recently that the #NeverTrump faction doesn’t have that much support inside the GOP, which is why Trump will likely secure the nomination outright before the convention, but it’s also why he can’t win the general election. Assuming that they are serious about refusing to support him (and I think most are), that means that at least a quarter of the normal Republican coalition won’t cast a vote for their party’s nominee in November. Given that the Republican coalition cobbled together just 47% in the last election, it can’t afford to lose any Romney voters, much less a quarter of them. Many anti-Trump Republicans may still show up to vote in other elections, but many will probably just stay home. Some may bring themselves to vote for Clinton, but I suspect that is a bridge too far for many anti-Trump Republicans that are rejecting Trump ideological and/or ethical reasons. A few may end up being driven back to supporting Trump when they remember how much they loathe Clinton, but not enough to matter.

The danger in all this is not what Trump represents, but that Clinton will misinterpret her likely landslide victory for a “mandate” to do whatever she wants. Politicians are often inclined to believe wrongly that a large win gives them a “mandate” to push through their agenda, and the larger the win the more likely they are to overreach. The problem this year is that the “Respectables” Sullivan refers to aren’t really going to get their comeuppance they deserve, but will end up getting the president they want, and that will make them think that nothing important has to change.

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Indiana: The Anti-Trump Republicans’ Last Stand

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Trump is winning in Indiana, and the half-hearted Cruz-Kasich pact to oppose him has gone over very poorly in the Hoosier State:

But 58 percent of likely Republican primary voters in Indiana say they disapprove of Cruz and Kasich teaming up to beat Trump in the Hoosier State, while 34 percent say they approve of the move.

It doesn’t bode well for anti-Trump Republicans when barely a third of the electorate in the next primary state supports an attempt to thwart Trump’s nomination. The attempted coordination with Kasich seemed likely to backfire, and to the extent that it had any effect it seems to have done the anti-Trump cause more harm than good. The goal of anti-Trump Republicans is to thwart the preferences of most Republican voters and install a different nominee from the one that received the most votes. Like most Republicans across the country, Indiana Republicans aren’t interested in that: 64% of likely Republican voters say that the candidate with the most votes in the primaries should be the nominee even if he doesn’t have the majority of delegates. Just 29% want the delegates to pick the candidate they believe to be the best nominee.

Even if the Cruz-Kasich pact had worked as planned, the poll suggests that Trump would have won a two-way race with Cruz anyway. The evidence from the NBC News/WSJ poll tells us that Kasich, not Cruz, was the most popular second choice for voters in Indiana, so the assumption that Cruz could win Indiana without Kasich in the race was based on a misunderstanding of the state’s electorate, which is part of the larger failure to understand the Republican primary electorate as a whole. When all is said and done, Trump owes his nomination in no small part to the unfailingly incompetent and belated opposition he faced throughout the process. Anti-Trump Republicans have assumed all along that Trump prevailed mostly because of a divided field, and they believed that he would lose against one or two opponents, but each time the field has narrowed Trump’s support has increased enough to stave off any challenger.

The Cruz campaign is starting to pay attention to the writing on the wall:

Within the campaign, some are turning to the question of what’s next. One senior aide said there had been no discussion about dropping out before the final primary contests are held on June 7 but noted that Cruz wouldn’t be eager to prolong a campaign he was convinced he couldn’t win.

If Trump wins Indiana by more than 10 points, he is set to take the state’s entire haul of 57 delegates (30 go to the statewide winner, and the remainder are determined by winner of each district). That not only brings him that much closer to securing the nomination outright, but it deprives Cruz of his last, best chance at a significant victory. Cruz has staked whatever remains of his campaign on a win in Indiana, and all indications are that he won’t be able to deliver.

Die-hard anti-Trump Republicans are proving once again to be a distinct minority in their own party. They have been consoling themselves for months with the conceit that Trump’s support is limited to no more than a third of the GOP, but the truth is that they can rely on barely a third of Republicans for their cause. They have not only been wrong about how much support Trump can expect to receive (49% say they will vote for him in Indiana in the latest poll), but they have also greatly overestimated the intensity of opposition from Republican voters that prefer another candidate. If Trump received 35-40% of the vote in a given state, his opponents assumed that this meant that two-thirds of Republicans were implacably against him, but that hasn’t been true in months if it ever was. If a third of the party is firmly behind Trump and a third is determined to oppose him, the remaining third is content to go with whichever candidate is winning. Anti-Trump Republicans are losing so badly because they simply don’t have the numbers to win in most places, and they seem to be the last ones to understand this.

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Christ is Risen!





Let God arise, and his enemies be scattered: and let those that hate him flee before his face.

A sacred Pascha has been revealed to us today, a new and holy Pascha, a mystic Pascha, an all-venerable Pascha, a Pascha that is Christ the Redeemer, an unblemished Pascha, a great Pascha, a Pascha of the faithful, a Pascha that has opened for us the gates of Paradise, a Pascha that makes all the faithful holy.

As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish, as wax melts at the presence of fire.

Come from that sight, you women, bearers of good tidings, and say to Zion, ‘Receive from us the good tidings of joy, of Christ’s Resurrection. Exult, dance and be glad, Jerusalem, for you have seen Christ the King like a bridegroom coming from the grave.

So shall the wicked perish at the presence of God; and let the just be glad.

The myrrh-bearing women at deep dawn came to the grave of the giver of life. They found an Angel sitting on the stone, and he addressed them and said, ‘Why do you seek the living with the dead? Why do you mourn the incorruptible as though he were in corruption? Go, proclaim it to his Disciples.

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

A Pascha of delight, Pascha, the Lord’s Pascha, an all-venerable Pascha has dawned for us, Pascha. Let us embrace one another with joy. O Pascha, ransom from sorrow! Today Christ shone forth from a tomb as from a bridal chamber, and filled the women with joy, saying, ‘Proclaim it to the Apostles’.

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Holy Saturday


When Thou didst descend to death 0 Life Immortal, Thou didst slay hell with the splendor of Thy Godhead! And when from the depths Thou didst raise the dead, all the powers of heaven cried out: O Giver of Life! Christ our God! Glory to Thee!

The angel standing by the grave cried out to the women: Myrrh is proper for the dead, but Christ has shown Himself a stranger to corruption.

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