Trump Can No Longer Be Avoided
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Even Cruz and Kasich have thrown in the towel after Indiana. The Republican Party nomination for President will go to Trump. What the GOP must now ask itself is whether it is now Trump’s Party as well.
This is the question which will be watched as the public responds to his candidacy and as Republican candidates run with him, against him, or separate from him. In fact, the future of the Party will really only be addressed after November 8; but rest assured Cruz, Rubio, et.al. are already beginning to make all types of calculations for their own personal future as well as that for the Party.
There will be a chance to see some of this debate at the convention in Cleveland as Trump weighs in during the platform committee debates and as he endeavors to orchestrate and control the actual convention. The prevailing theory is that Trump will try to affect the platform, will accept whatever is eventually decided, and, if elected, do whatever he pleases. (In fairness it should be noted that Hillary probably will do the same and, in fact, most nominees who have become president have not ever really been especially constrained by their party’s platform.) For the Republican Party in 2016, however, the gulf between some of Trump’s intentioned policy directions and those of the party rank and file may be so huge that they are totally insurmountable; again presenting a problem that the party will need to address only when and if Trump is elected.
This situation raises two other matters as the country prepares for an eventual Clinton-Trump battle. First, the Trump supporters do not care what Trump says or how often he changes his minds or contradicts himself. The adoration which he has received suggests that they will not care when his own words and statements are thrown back at him in speeches, debates, or advertisements. The cult of his personality will carry him through any pushback he might receive. The test will be whether independent voters and anyone but Trump Republicans will tolerate this style as well.
Second, nothing that Trump has said sticks to him nor is he held accountable to anything. While some in the media have attempted to trip him up and pin him with his words, Trump—to date—has gone on his way merrily attacking the messengers and denying his very words. His followers have then spun this entire episode back against those criticizing or attacking him. The challenge for Clinton and the Democratic Party will be whether they can wrest control of the microphone and the debate from him. She and her team recognize that Trump is exceedingly vulnerable to substantive discussions and policy debates. The challenge is whether they can force him to address matters, whether he can present a reasoned argument, and whether his supporters even will care.