Taking Trump's side in the GOP civil war

The Republican Civil War has erupted into full view. Last week, Mitt Romney called all hands on deck to defeat Donald Trump. Trump has since enjoyed victories in five of nine contests. Polls project his streak to hold in next week's critical primaries.

The significance of the Trumpista uprising is hard to miss. The stars aligned in 2016 for conservatives to "take back" America from the progressive onslaught. The voters, disenchanted with Obama and alienated from progressive policies, are hoping for change. History favors a rotation of power, and few find Hillary Clinton inspiring, trustworthy or likable. A new generation of forward-looking conservatives, acutely sensitive to traditional values and contemporary problems, is rising.

Elephants fighting
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The Republican leadership seems unable to close the deal. Trump didn't create the GOP's disconnect with the voters—he illuminated and exploited it. No matter the outcome in 2016, the intellectual and political leadership of the conservative movement should be undertaking a serious round of soul-searching.

Instead, the old guard has regrouped as the Nevertrumps. Having despaired of uniting behind a candidate capable of outpolling Trump—and still wary of Ted Cruz, who seems best positioned to finish a close second—the Nevertrumps seek creative ways to impose their wisdom on a foolish nation.

Their proposals are more likely to further the divide between America's masses and its elite than to defeat the Democratic candidate. While some Nevertrumps advocate strategic voting to wrest the nomination away from primary voters and return it to party elders, others hope that a third party will throw the election to the House of Representatives.

It is hard to imagine either Trump or the Trumpistas withdrawing quietly after winning a substantial plurality. There are only two viable ways to stop Trump: defeat him (or at least come plausibly close) in the primaries, or elect another Democratic president. Given that the race shows no hint of winnowing to enable the former, the Nevertrumps' efforts make the latter more likely.

Unmentioned in the gleeful reporting of this internecine blood feud is our own Republican camp. Neither Trumpistas nor Nevertrumps, we believe that a Trump nomination would be a mistake of epic proportions—a poor choice from a strong field. Nevertheless, we are more committed to halting the progressive transformation of America than we are to stopping Donald Trump.

Eight years of Barack Obama's America has given us perspective. We have glimpsed the progressive future, and it is not pretty. A third consecutive progressive term may write the Judeo-Christian tradition and the eighteenth century classic liberalism that inspired the Constitution out of America's future. For all of his flaws, President Trump would keep the struggle for those ideals alive.

The Nevertrumps warn that Trump harbors authoritarian instincts; that he shows minimal respect for the Constitution; that he is racially divisive; that his economics risk recession; that he would reform neither our constricting regulatory state nor our actuarially unsound entitlements; that our allies would disrespect him; that his orders might concern our military; that he claims neutrality between Israel and its terrorist foes; and that his foreign policy might strengthen our enemies. We wonder how any of that differs from life under the incumbent. They warn that Trump's personal foibles would prove embarrassing. We wonder whether they remember Bill Clinton.

Given that Hillary Clinton played critical roles in Bill Clinton's personal life and Barack Obama's policies, it's unclear why either of these dire warnings commend her as preferable to Trump.

What's more, the media, academia, Hollywood, the civil service, and large parts of Wall Street and Silicon Valley will encourage a Democratic president intent upon imposing the progressive agenda, but oppose a President Trump employing an authoritarian style. A bipartisan majority in Congress would join that opposition. America retains ample checks and balances capable of restraining presidential authority—as long as the president is not of the left. A Clinton Supreme Court is far more likely to erode those restraints, as well.

Elections are about choices. Preferring Trump to Clinton is hardly an endorsement of Trump, the agenda on which he has campaigned, or his personal style. A Trump presidency would represent a leap into the unknown. On present indications, much of it would make us uneasy—though there is ample room for pleasant surprises. The alternative, however, is an easily predictable disaster. Sympathetic though we may be to the Nevertrump case, it seems to forget that continuing along the path of the past eight years would be worse.

Only a united GOP can stall (if not reverse) the progressive transformation of America. The campaign to date suggests that party unification will require far more than its usual dose of magnanimity. Trumpistas and Nevertrumps alike must remember that secession is misplaced in the party of Lincoln—a grand old party capable of healing its civil wars "with malice toward none, with charity for all."

Commentary by Bruce Abramson, Ph.D., J.D. and Jeff Ballabon. Abramson is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, and director of policy at the Iron Dome Alliance. Ballabon is CEO of B2 Strategic where he advises and represents corporate and political clients on interacting with the government and media. He previously headed the communications and public policy departments of major media corporations including CBS News and Court TV. Follow them on Twitter @bdabramson and @ballabon.

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