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For Republicans, The Moment Of Truth Has Arrived

If Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio don't unite, writes John Sivolella, Donald Trump will likely be the nominee of what’s left of the GOP. In this photo, Trump speaks during a campaign stop at the Signature Flight Hangar at Port-Columbus International Airport, Tuesday, March 1, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. (John Minchillo/AP)
If Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio don't unite, writes John Sivolella, Donald Trump will likely be the nominee of what’s left of the GOP. In this photo, Trump speaks during a campaign stop at the Signature Flight Hangar at Port-Columbus International Airport, Tuesday, March 1, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. (John Minchillo/AP)
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The hour has grown late for the Republican establishment.

Super Tuesday’s results scream for the party’s remaining presidential candidates not named Donald J. Trump to end their game of chicken and unify around a ticket. But are they listening?

GOP leadership has been tone-deaf toward its grassroots for nearly a decade. Voters gave the party large majorities in both the House and Senate in the last two mid-terms, and have elected 31 Republican governors. Yet, from their perspective, little has changed to right the nation’s course.

The mainstream GOP has been unable to develop and communicate policy solutions to address the country’s myriad challenges. In the eyes of the GOP electorate, Congress has been feckless dealing with the Obama Administration. And this is all on the heels of the administration of President George W. Bush running up record deficits and getting the nation embroiled in two wars without a clear path to victory.

John Sivolella: "A Ted Cruz-Marco Rubio ticket would be formidable at this stage, but the window of opportunity is rapidly closing." (Both photos/AP)
John Sivolella: "A Ted Cruz-Marco Rubio ticket would be formidable at this stage, but the window of opportunity is rapidly closing." (Both photos/AP)

GOP leadership left a vacuum that Trump is filling. In a sense, the party’s chickens are coming home to roost and it shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Yet, with an enlightened stroke of leadership and cooperation, the GOP can still change the paradigm overnight. A Ted Cruz-Marco Rubio ticket would be formidable at this stage, but the window of opportunity is rapidly closing. The pairing would be young, smart, appeal to conservatives in the party who have felt betrayed, and substantially broaden the party by aggressively embracing the Latino community. And election returns thus far demonstrate that it could actually win.

Such a bold move would also allow the GOP to avoid a brokered convention.

Relying on this approach to select the party’s candidate is as cynical and anti-democratic as the super-delegate system that the Democrats designed — and Republicans have condemned — to rig their primaries to prevent a populist insurgent from being elected by primary voters.

A brokered convention is the essence of the insider game that the grassroots despises and is fueling the Trump campaign. It is remarkable that the mainstream GOP has still not figured this out, or willfully chooses to ignore it, and is floating it as a strategy.

The GOP primary battle needs to be fought now — openly at ballot boxes across the nation — not in the backrooms of Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

Changing course and making a bold move to unite the GOP, however, requires a coordinated, respected leadership within the party. It’s difficult to discern where, and if, that exists.

In the short term, Cruz or Rubio will have to swallow their pride. But over the long-term they could both ascend to a leadership perch in the GOP and shape the party for decades, like Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush before them.

The likelihood of this, however, seems minimal. It would, after all, run contrary to everything we've seen play out over the last eight months and everything that led to the rise of Trump in the first place.

The GOP primary battle needs to be fought now -- openly at ballot boxes across the nation -- not in the backrooms of Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

The GOP used to give voice to discontent through its contrarian, independent streak. That was a healthy balance that served to limit the natural tendency of government to expand and seek more power. Today, however, dicontentedness crowds out the optimism and policy-making efficiency that once defined the party.

As a consequence, the GOP is devolving into a party of perpetual opposition. There still remains a path back from that abyss, but the route grew significantly narrower on Tuesday.

The time is thus now if Cruz and Rubio want to demonstrate beyond campaign slogans that they are the future of the GOP. If serious, they would take Trump’s advice and cut a deal — from a position of strength before their campaigns wash out later this month.

If they don’t and opt instead for a cynical ploy of trying to wrestle away the nomination at a brokered convention, Trump will likely be the nominee of what’s left of the GOP.

Related:

John Sivolella Cognoscenti contributor
John Sivolella is on the faculty at Columbia University, where he teaches about the presidency, federal agencies and public policy.

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