While it is a worthy pursuit to examine and anticipate each passing twist and turn of the Trump campaign, there is one goal that should be at the top of every conservative list: avoid luring him into an independent run.
Anything that makes Trump wistfully consider a third-party run is bad. Anything that makes him dismiss it is good. My opinion of his campaign has no effect on this conclusion. For the record, I have enjoyed his directness and fierce autonomy from the donors and consultants that usually water down GOP candidates and eventual nominees. I have also winced at his wheels-off moments of juvenile barbs and cell-number disclosures. All the while, his presence has taught us lessons about the voters and the GOP field that we would not have otherwise learned.
But make no mistake. Once the Republican Trump flirtation ends, and that will be later rather than sooner, if he mounts an independent candidacy, Barack Obama gets a Democrat successor.
I used to end that paragraph “Hillary wins,” but her tanking numbers make me wonder about her inevitability. It does not matter. 2016 is fated to be a close election in the standard two-party mode, and if Trump is there to siphon off millions of Republican votes, we are screwed.
So the question arises: How do we stop this? And the answer arises: We can’t. It’s a free country, and Trump is a free spirit. He will do whatever he wishes to do.
So the best we can hope for is to refrain from behaviors that increase his likelihood of strolling down Independent Avenue.
That means Republican voters in every state must know that there is one turn of events that exponentially boosts the likelihood of a Trump independent run, and it must be headed off by any means necessary: the nomination of Jeb Bush.
The Bush campaign deserves to be weighed on its pluses and minuses. His fans point to a worthy span as Florida Governor and his potential ability to deliver Hispanic voters and the state of Florida. His critics point to spotty conservative credentials, marred by soft immigration positions, admiration for Common Core and the whiff of wiggle room on tax increases.
We can weigh Bush’s merits all day, but it all boils down to this. If he is the nominee, Trump probably runs and the Democrats keep the White House.
Trump is driven by many things, and few seem to appreciate or understand them all. Of course he is driven by ego and self-absorption, but that gives him a confidence and energy that is actually a big part of his appeal.
He is also driven by a sincere desire to infuse America with the kind of successful aura that has boosted his profile in the business world.
And third, he is driven by a desire to put a stick in the eye of people he believes deserve it. He doesn’t just criticize opponents’ views, he calls them “dummies.” He doesn’t just call out his tormentors and shed light on their foibles, he gives out their cell phone numbers.
It is this inner vindictive 12-year-old that every GOP voter must understand. It drives Trump’s passions to pointedly criticize Hillary, which is good, but it also fuels his vendettas against his Republican rivals, which is bad.
Trump has tossed barbs at many big names in the GOP, but there is one Republican who obviously makes Trump’s teeth itch: Jeb Bush.
First, he is a Bush, and Trump doesn’t like the Bushes. Second, he is a soft-borders guy, antithetical to Trump’s key issue. Third, he has been on Trump’s case nearly since the moment of his announcement. While Rick Perry may have recently discovered the art of Trump-bashing, Jeb started the ball rolling long before. Granted, this was amid plenty of ham-handed criticism of Bush by Trump, but the bottom line is that Trump would love to deny Bush the White House, and he knows that if he ran, he would do just that, which may be almost as sweet as winning.
Trump is also driven to beat Hillary, but he probably doubts Bush can do that, and he may be right.
There is only one way to shrink the odds of a Trump independent run, and that is for Republicans to offer up a bold conservative driven to shore up our borders, create jobs and return America to global leadership status.
The good news is that those Trump agenda items are exactly what we should be seeking anyway. If Republicans elevate a Marco Rubio or a Scott Walker or a Ted Cruz, I doubt Trump would rain on the resulting parade of conservative joy and energy.
But if we yak up Jeb Bush, it’s game on. This may be unfair, and I’m sure it sounds like a gimmick to conceal an agenda to cast shadows on Bush, but I conceal nothing. I am absolutely among those who have a certain admiration for Jeb on some things, but find his conservatism far too inconsistent for him to be my favored nominee.
This is about none of that. This is a simple warning. The Bush nomination is a strong lure for a Trump independent run, which will absolutely lead to a Democrat victory.
I am not one of those who thinks there is no difference between Jeb and Hillary. Of course there is. If Jeb were the nominee, I would crawl on broken glass to help him beat a Democrat. But I don’t have enough company. A Bush candidacy would be a third straight election cycle with an under-inspiring nominee unpopular among the grassroots conservatives needed to win. Throw in Trump, and Bush’s chances drop from questionable to zero.
It is a popular belief (and I share it) that our best path to victory in 2016 is with an upbeat, unapologetic conservative with a strong gift for communicating the benefits of conservative governance. Victory is not guaranteed if we follow this wise path, but defeat surely is, if our primaries yield Jeb Bush, and the resulting Trump whim that would give us Obama’s third term.