Robb: Don't fight Donald Trump - ignore him

Robert Robb
Robert Robb

House Speaker Paul Ryan told CNN that he is not ready to support the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, Donald Trump. Ryan went on to say he hopes he can in the future and stressed the need to unite the divided Republican party.

Now that Donald Trump is the inevitable nominee, Republicans who find him repugnant and reprehensible have to decide what to do about it. This is a particularly difficult and fraught question for elected GOP officials.

Here’s the problem. The Republican Party, since Reagan, has been a fusion between small-government, free-market conservatives and social conservatives. Trump is neither.

• Bad idea No. 1: Maybe we can rehabilitate him.

One school of thought is to try to rehabilitate him. Surround him with experienced political advisers and policy experts. Try to bring him around on the issues. Get him to give scripted speeches and stuff a sock in his potty mouth.

It’s too late for that. No one has established a more indelible political persona in a shorter period of time.

Stylistically, Trump is a vulgar populist. Substantively, he’s a nativist — against immigration, trade and foreign engagements.

No amount of GOP spit and polish is going to change that. And there is zero indication that Trump would have any interest in such a re-branding in any event.

• Bad idea No. 2: Find someone who can beat him.

Another school of thought is to publicly repudiate Trump and organize against him, perhaps by running a third-party candidate. George Will, among others, has issued a call to arms. Now is a time of choosing. You can be a patriot to the conservative cause and fight Trump, or you can be a quisling by supporting him or standing aside silently.

I understand that sentiment. And certainly pundits such as Will should be calling the shots as they see them.

But GOP elected officials are in a different category and have other considerations. And tactically, I think an all-out fight against Trump from the right would be a mistake.

If Trump fails, it will be clarifying if it is because voters rejected him and his views. An organized conservative putsch would enable Trumpites to instead say he was cheated and done in by traitorous establishment types. They are prone to that kind of thinking anyway.

• Here's a better idea: Just don't help him.

Ignore Trump. Don’t help him. Don’t attempt to rehabilitate him. But don’t fight him either.

Trump as the Republican nominee for president is obviously a very big thing to ignore. And impossible to do so entirely.

But politicians are skilled at giving nondescript answers to difficult questions. Let each come up with his own formulation. But make nondescript answers the end to it.

If I were House Speaker Paul Ryan, rather than trying to find common ground with Trump, I would be trying to conjure up a reason not to serve as chairman of the convention that will nominate him.

The big question regarding the Trump phenomenon is whether it is just an extreme spasm of anti-establishmentarianism, or whether the center of gravity in the Republican electorate is now vulgar populism and nativism.

If the latter, small-government, free-market conservatives will have to find a new political home. But that won’t be known until after Trump. And it will be clearer if Trump falls than if he is pushed.

Robert Robb is a columnist for The Arizona Republic.