No one left with standing to save Republican Party

WASHINGTON – Donald Trump’s stranglehold on the Republican Party as it plunges headlong toward its national convention in mid-July imperils the party’s very survival 162 years after its emergence from the withered skeleton of the Whig Party.

The Grand Old Party was born in 1854 in the crucible of an approaching civil war between the Northern and Southern states over the right of secession from the Union and the institution of slavery. By comparison, the bone of contention now is trivial. It grows out of one egomaniacal outsider’s decision to impose his ambition and will on a political party in which he previously showed only a modicum of interest.

No great or imperative issue confronting the nation is at stake now, igniting the public’s passions. Instead, there is a general mood of disaffection with the existing major parties’ inability or unwillingness to engage in bipartisan compromise on a range of matters before the national legislature.

A politically divided government, with the executive branch in Democratic hands and both houses of the legislative branch controlled by the Republicans, remains in virtual paralysis after six years of stalemate. A bombastic strongman now thunders his claim to break the impasse by the sheer power and audacity of his oversized personality.

The phenomenon has taken on the character of a television reality show, in which Donal Trump plays the starring role. He has used a weakened and leaderless Republican Party shell as his vehicle, running roughshod over a field of inept challengers in this year’s state primaries and caucuses.

Early on, GOP establishment figures boasted they had a brilliant crop of candidates opposing Trump, including five current or former state governors and five current or former or U.S. senators. But he made mincemeat of all of them, using an array of insults and misrepresentations to mow down these establishment figures.

In the absence of a serious agenda, Trump offered grandiose promises of severe immigration restrictions – racial and ethnic barriers that successfully played into the national mood of repression and cultural animosities. They brought him to presumptive nomination by the Republican Party.

With that seemingly in hand, the celebrity outsider took on the visage of party conqueror with more wildly irresponsible declarations against all foes, including fellow Republican leaders who belatedly came to realize they had a demagogue on their hands. Slowly, buyer’s remorse began to set in.

A group of anti-Trump Republican delegates has undertaken an effort to change the convention rules to allow all delegates, pledged to a candidate or not, to cast their presidential ballots as they please. But with no proposed alternative nominee being mentioned, the campaign seems highly unlikely to catch on, especially with a majority of the delegates dug in to nominate Trump.

Still, the potential for a raucous convention in Cleveland, with Trump rallying attendees with more of the divisive tactics and comments that got him where he is now, carries the seeds of lasting damage to the party image and label.

If Trump goes down in a landslide defeat, with attendant deep losses in the GOP’s majorities in the House and Senate, who remains in the party with great credibility to put the pieces back together?

The 2012 standard-bearer, Mitt Romney, has revealed himself as a weak rallier of the stop-Trump campaign, and all members of Bush family have washed their hands of it. The 2008 nominee, Sen. John McCain, already has his hands full hoping to hold on to his own Senate seat in Arizona.

The most vocal GOP senator against Trump, freshman Ben Sasse of Nebraska, has said he has no interest in opposing him as an alternative at the convention. Even if the party finally rallies around Trump, he already is far behind Hillary Clinton in resources and organization to mount a competitive campaign in the fall.

The party badly needs a savior from Trump, but none is in sight. He seems the only man on a white horse right now, determined to take the Grand Old Party on a ride of self-aggrandizement with himself in the saddle, between now and November.