Republican grief over Donald Trump’s all but assured presence on the debate stage next month seems to be entering it’s final stage: acceptance.
Whether it’s the winery-owning mega donor, or the Koch-backed Hispanic outreach group or the former head of the American Conservative Union, there is a distaste for the abrasive reality television star and businessman.
But although there was preliminary chatter about finding a way to marginalize Trump or keep him off the debate stage in Cleveland, Ohio, the unhappiness with his recent insulting comments about Hispanics has yielded to mere condemnation and an unhappy acquiescence to his presence in the race.
“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people,” Trump said recently.
John Jordan, the multi-millionaire winery owner and the third-largest donor to super PACs in the country in 2013, had originally contemplated gathering signatures to keep Trump off the debate stage.
“Someone in the party ought to start some sort of petition saying, ‘If Trump’s going to be on the stage, I’m not going to be on there with him,’” Jordan told the Associated Press last week. “I’m toying with the idea of it.”
But several days later, Jordan was thinking differently. He told The Daily Beast that he would not be putting together a petition effort.
“I’m content right to let the process play out, that is for the party and the candidates to figure out,” Jordan said. “I have one concern, and one concern only, and that is next November. I want to make sure that the nominee has the possible chance to win.”
Al Cardenas, the former chairman of the American Conservative Union and Florida’s first Hispanic GOP state chairman, said he hoped the primary process would naturally weed out Trump’s candidacy, rather than a top-down effort to push Trump out.
“[A]s distasteful as his comments have been to me, we should let the process play out. Hopefully, it’s the rejection by the voters, not a group of party leaders, that should determine his fate as a presidential candidate,” Cardenas said. “I respect the feelings of a number of our colleagues who feel differently—and strongly—about this and argue that his continuation in the race is detrimental to our party and to our brand. And they may be right, but the end does not justify the means in this case.”
“It’s a mild form of censorship to say that because we disagree with his tone or comments about the immigrant community, [he] should leave the race,” added Daniel Garza of the Koch-backed Libre Initiative, which seeks to appeal to Hispanic voters. “You allow him to mouth off… He has the right to speak, and we have the right to disagree with him… Calls to have him leave the race are ludicrous.”
Alfonso Aguilar, the head of the conservative American Principles Project’s Latino Partnership, views Trump’s “insulting and baseless” comments as creating pressure on other presidential candidates to step up their Hispanic outreach.
“Instead of seeing him as a problem, I see it as an opportunity—but one that requires strong leadership,” he told the Beast. “He’s a lunatic, but we’ve had other lunatics run for president. The problem is not that he’s on stage—it’s if you don’t respond and rebuke him.”
“He has shaken up the primary in a way that might not be welcome. But now that you have it, if you’re smart and astute, maybe you can use it in your favor,” agreed Garza. “Obviously you have to draw the contrast. If Donald Trump is showing how not to do Latino outreach, you show the way to do it effective.”
As for the Republican National Committee, it wants no part in any effort to sideline Trump. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus had called Trump to preach civility after the businessman’s controversial comments—then got mired into a he-said, he-said with The Donald over the contents of the call.
Asked about whether Republicans or big-dollar donors were making an effort to keep Trump off the debate stage, an RNC official merely said that, per Federal Election Commission guidelines, the networks and debate sponsors were responsible for setting up the guidelines for the presidential debates.Meanwhile, a small plurality of Republican voters are favoring Trump. In a USA Today/Suffolk University poll released this week, Trump leads the field with 17%. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is close behind him with 14%.
Two polls out last week showed him leading the field of Republican 2016 candidates, receiving 15 percent in an Economist/YouGov poll and 16 percent in a PPP poll.
Aguila, who was in Arizona to counter-message an event Trump was having with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, said the key to convincing Republican primary voters to steer clear of Trump was to point out the businessman’s prior positions like Trump’s praise of Bill Clinton and his donation to the Clinton Foundation.
“Before he was friends with Hillary, now he’s friends with Joe Arpaio,” he said. “Are you really sure he’s conservative?”