David Brooks sounds the alarm over Trump and Cruz about six months too late:
What’s needed is a grass-roots movement that stands for governing conservatism, built both online and through rallies, and gets behind a single candidate sometime in mid- to late February.
Brooks is likely right that either Trump or Cruz as nominee would lead to a loss in the general election, but then it’s not obvious that a nominee foisted on a fragmented party by Brooks’ imaginary “movement” would do any better. (It is possible that the present Republican coalition cannot win a presidential election no matter who is on top of the ticket.) Trump and Cruz supporters at least have the advantage that they seem genuinely enthusiastic about and committed to their candidates, and that could translate into increased turnout in some places for the GOP. A candidate backed by Brooks’ “movement for governing conservatism” would have none of that, since everyone would understand that supporting him was a desperate, last-ditch option to block the other two. The funny thing is this maneuver would probably lead to the electoral disaster that it is supposed to be preventing.
The problem with a Trump or Cruz nomination is that it would probably also drive just as many voters to stay home or flip to the other party as it adds to the Republican coalition. One even bigger problem with Brooks’ idea is that it would virtually guarantee that millions of disgusted and disaffected Trump and Cruz supporters would sit out the election in just the same way that some anti-Trump Republicans are threatening to do if he wins. Especially after the last two elections, most Republican voters have no confidence that party elites and pundits have any idea which candidates are truly the most electable, and they have concluded that the candidates that most of them like fit the bill. The message to party elites is: “You’ve had your chances, and you blew them, so now it’s our turn.”
Besides, there probably isn’t enough time to organize an anti-Trump/anti-Cruz “movement.” The time to do that was months ago when it became clear how much support for “outsider” and insurgent candidates there was. Back then, hardly anyone took this seriously and assumed that the voters would eventually fall in line. Even if there were enough time over the next few weeks to do what Brooks suggests, there is no agreement on which “establishment” candidate such a “movement” ought to back. What Brooks proposes would be the very definition of an “astroturf” movement designed to stymie and thwart the two leading candidates for the nomination. It would be seen for exactly what it is: a last-minute attempt by the people that have presided over decades of poor Republican leadership to retain control of a party whose members are sick of them. It would fail, and it should.
Near the end of his column, Brooks asserts:
There’s a silent majority of hopeful, practical, programmatic Republicans.
That seems to be wrong as a matter of fact. Trump and Cruz supporters account for more than 50% of Republicans nationally. Throw in Carson supporters, and you’re getting close to two-thirds. The majority of Republicans isn’t interested in what Brooks is selling, and an eleventh-hour “conspiracy” against the voters isn’t going to change that.