When Republicans appeared to be heading toward a divided convention we said the cost of denying Trump the nomination would be conceding the presidential election. But I thought this outcome might be better than allowing Trump to win the nomination and rebrand the Republican Party in his image. We are now getting the first glimpse of what that rebranding looks like and it is as ugly as I suspected it would be.
Having executed his hostile takeover of the party, Trump is now in the process of extracting value from his new acquisition and discarding the rest. Value in this case is the Republican name, which gives political legitimacy to the Trump brand, and the band of base voters responsible for the candidate’s rise. Everything else includes things like building infrastructure for down ballot Republican candidates, which is tedious and does not contribute to the candidate’s self-promotion agenda. Trump’s brand is personal, and he will now impose it on the Republican Party, which might as well start measuring the roof of its understated First Street headquarters for the dimensions of a gaudy TRUMP sign. Over time, the Republican Party will acquire Trump’s personality. It is already being forced to defend his views, which is to say whatever he thinks or feels at any given time.
For the next five-plus months, it will be the party’s job to explain why the outrageous, offensive or impolitic things the candidate says are perfectly reasonable and in line with Republican orthodoxy. Specifically, this will be RNC communications director Sean Spicer’s job. My student group had the opportunity to visit the RNC and meet Spicer, who most certainly has one of the worst assignments in Washington. Spicer has to defend Donald Trump, to find a positive context for his words and deflect attention from the indefensible. Which means he’s going to have a lot of press exchanges like this one:
Spicer’s assignment in this instance was to defend Trump and defend Susana Martinez against Trump’s attack on her, or to find the point of compatibility between two incompatible arguments. Logic suggests such a point does not exist. But logic also suggests that a star governor would be immune from an attack by her party’s own presumptive standard bearer. No Republican candidate other than Donald Trump would think of taking on Susana Martinez, the Latina Republican governor of New Mexico and chair of the Republican Governors Association, except perhaps as a running mate. Like everything with Trump, his issue with Martinez is personal—she has not embraced his candidacy and refused to appear with him at an Albuquerque rally. So when Spicer is asked to defend Trump’s attack on Martinez, he understandably praises Martinez as “phenomenal” and weakly acknowledges her “differences” with Trump, then tries to change the subject as rapidly as possible. What else can he do? There is no rational defense of Trump’s words, which only deepen his rift with official Washington while further antagonizing Latino voters.
Trump has made it clear he will not change his political style to suit the important party role is he about to assume. Instead, he promises to be a parasite that will consume the Republican Party from within, and establishment Republicans will have no choice but to defend him as he destroys them.