I have a history with Donald Trump. Having rescinded an invitation from him to a gathering in August after his comments on Megyn Kelly, I watched as Trump supporters descended on social media, my radio program, my phone number, and my mailbox to express their outrage. It was weeks before my children could check the mailbox again. I still get random and assorted hate mail over the incident.
Despite that history, when this election season is concluded, Republicans are most likely going to owe Donald Trump thanks. This season of Trump has fleshed out and forced out some rules of politics that only applied because they had never really been tested. Like Howard Dean in 2004 proving that the person with the most money does not really always win, Donald Trump is proving that the Republicans with the most veteran Republican political consultants do not always win.
In fact, at this writing, Jeb Bush hovers around three percent in the polling and has gone from multi-thousand dollar fundraising dinners to just trying to fill rooms with people. Had Trump not entered the race, Bush would have faced a traditional field and probably been much more competitive. That different, traditional field tends to line donors up with establishment picks. People forget that the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan has only nominated one person since 1980 who backed Ronald Reagan in the 1980 primary cycle. That was John McCain.
George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush and Mitt Romney all opposed Reagan in 1980. The party the media decries as a bastion of the far right has rarely nominated a candidate for president explicitly of the right. What is more, the political consultant class within the Republican Party has come from those moderate candidates who most often lose. From team Dole to team McCain to team Romney, their consultants have stayed within the upper ranks of elite Republican consultants and continue losing. They are now losing to Donald Trump.
Trump's presence is forcing the Republican Party to finally come to grips with three things. First, its consultant class is fat, comfortable, and commissioned. If a Republican wins, the consultants make millions. If a Republican loses, the consultants make millions. Many a beach houses have been bought by Republican consultants who have never had a major candidate win. The consultants get commissions for their mail, their advertising, their marked-up phone surveys and so much more. With the threat of Donald Trump rising, these consultants are risking their reputations, careers and livelihoods as the men and women who could not stop Donald Trump. Picking apart the carcass of the Bush campaign to make their beach house payment will not go over well if they do not stop Trump.
Second, Republican donors are finally being forced to choose between the lesser of two evils that they always try to force on conservatives, or be exposed as rank opportunists. In both 2008 and 2012, the base of Republican voters was told they must kneel before McCain or Romney and suck it up. Both times, the donor class candidate lost. Now the donor class candidates are losing to Trump, and the alternative to Trump, Ted Cruz, is a man the donors loathe. So either they will force themselves to unite with someone they do not care for, or expose themselves as the ones who really do take their football home when they do not get their way.
Third, Republican politicians are finally being held accountable. Trump would not exist as a candidate but for feckless Republican leadership in the face of an aggressive agenda from President Obama. Even now, Republican leaders are hoping Marco Rubio will unite the establishment while Ted Cruz is left in the shadow of Trump. Many Republicans have decided not to attack Trump because they think his continued presence hurts Ted Cruz. But they will very soon find themselves having to decide if they can continue that risk. Every day exposes them as being more interested in power than principle.
Republicans will owe Donald Trump thanks. He has finally forced the GOP to come to terms with its identity and its accumulated, unseparated chaff.