Washington: US Senator Lindsey Graham has labelled him a “nut job.” Former Governors Jeb Bush of Florida, Rick Perry of Texas, and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana have described him as a “jerk, loser, liar, and whiner”; a “cancer on conservatism”; and “a shallow, unserious, substance-free, narcissistic egomaniac,” respectively.
But these Republican leaders’ opinions appear not to be shared by a majority of the people who count at the ballot box: the American voter. And so it is that Donald J. Trump, a boorish billionaire and political neophyte, has been propelled to the front of the pack of Republican candidates hoping to be the next occupant of the White House.
The New York billionaire has won three of the four primaries held so far — New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada — and is expected to pick up several of the 11 states up for grabs on March 1, also known as Super Tuesday. But he is by no means a shoo-in to win his party’s nomination.
The Republican Party establishment has looked on aghast as Trump has run amok in a presidential contest to which he has more notably contributed insults than ideas. Trump wants to ban all Muslims from entering the United States of America, has called Mexicans rapists, and insulted, sexualised and stereotyped women.
Trump has become what journalist Peter Beinart described as “an instrument of class vengeance.” But his past support for abortion rights and harsh language could end up alienating social conservatives — the bedrock of the Republican Party.
So far, some of Trump’s Republican challengers have taken him on and failed. With the slate of Republican candidates whittled down to five — but essentially three serious ones — US Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas have emerged as Trump’s toughest challengers.
Outside the presidential contest, everyone from the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, to both conservative and moderate Republicans — not to mention Democrats — have denounced Trump.
Yet after months of resisting the very idea of a Trump nomination, signs are emerging that at least some Republicans, if not the party establishment, are willing to rally around a candidate whose xenophobic and anti-women rhetoric has alienated the very segments of society that the party has so desperately sought to court.
The clearest sign of support for Trump came on February 26 when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a former Trump opponent, endorsed the New Yorker. Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, was quoted in The Washington Post as saying that Christie’s endorsement is “a real signal to the establishment that they better start thinking in a positive way about how they are going to work with candidate Trump and President Trump.”
But a Virginia Republican Party official said Christie’s endorsement of Trump smacks of opportunism and could end up hurting the party. “If Trump were to become the [Republican presidential] nominee that would be very bad news for Republicans running for office, especially those in tight races,” said the official, who spoke with Gulf News on the condition of anonymity because he didn’t want to be seen criticising his party’s front-runner.
A similar sentiment was echoed in private conversations with other Republican Party officials who were worried about losing seats in both the Senate as well as the House of Representatives, and in doing so jeopardising the party’s control of Congress.
Robert Kagan, writing in the The Washington Post, best summed up the Republican angst.
Trump is the Republican Party’s “creation, its Frankenstein’s monster, brought to life by the party, fed by the party and now made strong enough to destroy its maker,” he wrote.