There's only one thing that could make Donald Trump palatable to establishment Republicans: The prospect of Ted Cruz being the nominee. That's how much they fear and loathe the Texas senator and how much of a disaster they see his possible nomination being for the GOP. The thinking is that Trump's over-the-top campaign rhetoric is largely schtick that would moderate in a general election. Cruz, on the other hand, means what he says. That and they really, really hate him.
"Cruz has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way in D.C., whereas Trump hasn't, and Trump up until this year was pretty much a player," said Craig Shirley, a longtime GOP strategist and charter member of the establishment. "Ultimately, the Washington establishment deep down—although they find Trump tacky or distasteful—they think that they ultimately can work with him. Deep down, a lot of people think it is an act." […]
But, mainly, the reason that Republican leaders are moving toward Trump has nothing to do with him. They viscerally, unashamedly loathe Cruz.
"Nobody likes him." It's a line Trump has used several times to describe Cruz, but it's also a quote attributed to GOP greybeard Bob Dole that was published Wednesday by The New York Times (of all places). Another former Republican Senate majority leader, Trent Lott (R-Miss.), said the same day that he, too, would take Trump over Cruz. That came a day after Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, the longest-serving governor in the nation, broke his longstanding neutrality to encourage caucus-goers to vote against the Texas senator. That, in turn, came a week after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the party's 2008 presidential nominee, said there were "issues" over whether Cruz was even eligible for the presidency—putting McCain philosophically in cahoots with Trump, a man who not too long ago mocked his war service.
Lots of Republicans have actually worked with Trump, or asked him for money. Plenty of Republicans—like McCain—have learned that there's no working with Cruz, and that anything crazy coming out of his mouth is precisely what he means and will be the policy path he pursues. That means disaster for Republicans running downticket because Cruz doesn't give a damn about their prospects. "If he's the nominee," warns Dole, "we're going to have wholesale losses in Congress and state offices and governors and legislatures."
One Republican—who insisted on anonymity for obvious reasons—told Huffington Post reporters Ryan Grim and Sam Stein that in some ways he secretly hopes Cruz does get the nomination and is destroyed by Hillary Clinton in the general election, just to see him horribly lose. "We are a great opposition party," he added, looking forward to running congressional races in 2018 against Clinton. And watching Ted Cruz's utter humiliation would just be so delicious. Another rationalizes that there's a "feeling that with Trump"—the sexist, fascist, racist blowhard—"it's easier for House and Senate candidates to separate themselves from the top of the ticket versus a fellow senator and particularly one who is running a hard-right campaign with no apparent desire to do outreach to independents and minorities."
So there you go, that's what it takes to make Donald Trump good news for Republicans—the prospect of having Ted Cruz be the party's standard-bearer. But hey, this isn't any reflection of a Republican party circling the drain. No, because the “silent majority” of "hopeful, practical, programmatic" Republicans—the ones who seem to be entirely missing in the Republican electorate—will somehow save the day. Apparently by lining up behind Trump.
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