From Politico: “People think we lose with Cruz, but we don’t lose everything,” said the operative, who opposes Trump and asked to speak anonymously. “He’s still a real Republican. We don’t lose the House and Senate with Cruz. We don’t lose our soul as a party and we can recover in four years and I’m not sure people think we can recover from Donald Trump.”
Said one high-level operative inside the Koch network: “He’s the devil you know.”
Indeed, many establishment Republicans would rather lose with Cruz and play a long 2020 game than risk having their party and conservative principles hijacked by Trump—a candidate they do not trust even as they recognize his political dexterity and the possibility that he could be just cagey enough to win on Election Day.
“Donald Trump is a centrist,” said Ron Kaufman, a close ally of Mitt Romney and Bush who lives in Massachusetts. “You may not like him, but policy-wise he’s a centrist. He’s between Cruz and Kasich. If Donald Trump is the nominee, he’ll be far more centrist in language than he has been.”
Trump’s repeated requests for the party to recognize the new voters he has drawn into the Republican fold and embrace the possibilities of his candidacy have yet to convince most establishment figures; many are taking steps to emphasize their still implicit opposition to him.
On Wednesday, Paul Ryan used a 30-minute speech to argue against Trump’s brand of divisive identity politics without mentioning the candidate by name, urging the country to “stay unified” and dismissing the notion “that we’re going to win the election by dividing people.” Meanwhile, a top RNC official was meeting privately with several high-level anti-Trump activists to explain what an open convention might look like.
And on Monday, Our Principles PAC, a group founded by establishment donors to oppose Trump, sent a tracker to shoot video footage of members of Congress showing up to meet with Trump in an effort to intimidate more rank-and-file Republicans from showing any openness to his candidacy. Suddenly, the party establishment, which has long been stymied by the Tea Party movement’s demands of ideological purity, now has its own litmus test in Trump, demanding nothing less than rejection of the current front-runner for the GOP’s presidential nomination.
“No one thought we would be here at this time,” said Austin Barbour, who ran Rick Perry’s super PAC until he quit last year and then backed Bush until he, too, quit, and is now casting his lot with Cruz.
The unifying factor among the establishment Republicans now begrudgingly coalescing behind Cruz is a deep, visceral revulsion to Trump: to his divisive demagoguery that is so unmoored from traditional conservative ideology and, many believe, the party’s and country’s bedrock values. It has little to do with Cruz, who has simply done better than anyone else in the first two months of the nomination process.