It should not surprise anyone that the candidate who has thus far eschewed every behavioral norm and code of acceptable conduct we’ve come to expect from a presidential aspirant would endorse violence as an acceptable political tool.
In fact, Donald Trump’s appeals to violence have become for his supporters one of their favorite parts of his stump speech. The celebrity candidate has told his followers that he’d like to see those who protest his events get a “punch in the face.” That’s not an isolated incident. “Maybe he should have been roughed up,” Trump said of another protester. “Try not to hurt him,” the real estate mogul said of one of his critics. “If you do, I’ll defend you in court.”
In wishing for, condoning, and defending violent behavior, Donald Trump is dousing the political environment in gasoline. His campaign has made it clear that they’re standing by with a lit match, and they’re not afraid to use it. With Trump facing unexpected resistance on his course to the nomination and the once fantastical hope of a contested convention looking increasingly realistic, Trump’s campaign has put a gun to the head of the Republican Party. The real estate mogul’s campaign advisors have warned that, if their candidate shows up to the nominating convention in Cleveland with a plurality of the delegates and the party denies him the nomination, his now weaponized supporters will “burn the place down.” The city of Cleveland has begun stocking up on riot gear and crowd-control equipment ahead of the convention.
These brutish intimidation tactics are having their intended effect on the majority non-Trump wing of the GOP. The fear of political violence from a thuggish mob is surely turning the stomachs of those on the right who are now urging preventative capitulation to Trump’s forces if no candidate amasses the delegate majority necessary to become the nominee.
“If [Trump] gets close enough and the GOP tries to play games, I won’t vote for Donald Trump ever, but I will stand with his right, because the people have spoken,” the talk show host Glenn Beck said on ABC’s “This Week.” He added that a convention fight would break up the GOP and “could lead to civil war in the country.” The influential conservative commentator Erick Erickson appeared to agree, calling a Wall Street Journal editorial urging a fight against Trump at the convention an invitation to “watch Trump supporters pour gasoline across the convention floor and strike a match.”
“If the GOP listens to this editorial this morning, there will be an outbreak of physical violence,” Erickson wrote.
This line of argumentation concedes to goons and hoodlums an undue amount of legitimacy. The Republican Party has never in its 160-year history had the kind of militant wing that typifies political parties in Europe and the Middle East, but the kind of thinking exemplified by Erickson and Beck would yield the development of one. For all the conservative lamentations over the rapidity with which the United States has been evolving into a facsimile of Europe, no concession would hasten that transition more than the resignation of American thought leaders to the idea that they must accept direct democracy or face the wrath of the mob.
There can only be a contested convention if no candidate receives a majority of the delegates (for the sake of simplicity, we’ll forego a deep dive into the still-fluid rules governing what that majority must look like). Therefore, and by definition in this scenario, Donald Trump’s supporters would amount to a minority within the GOP. Their endorsement of violence to achieve their ends, should it come to that, would render them a fringe minority. They can only be legitimized if their counterparts in the non-Trump majority of the Republican Party consent to their assimilation into a despotic Borg that used to be the party of individual liberty and free markets. This must be resisted, and anyone counseling surrender in the face of such hooliganism is abdicating their responsibilities as citizens of a constitutional republic.
As for the fear of a broad popular backlash against a non-Trump nominee, that too, is dubious. According to an ABC News/Washington Post survey released on Tuesday, both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio would defeat Donald Trump among Republicans in a head-to-head matchup by double digits. Just 51 percent of Republicans say they’d be satisfied with Trump as the nominee (fewer than 40 percent among GOP-voting women). “And those who don’t currently support Trump say by a broad 63-30 percent that if he lacks the majority it takes to win on the first ballot — even if he has the most delegates — they’d rather have the convention pick someone else,” ABC reported. According to exit polls on Super Tuesday, 52 percent of GOP voters in Virginia, 50 percent of GOP in Arkansas, 46 percent in Georgia, 41 percent of Tennessee all reported that they’d be dissatisfied with Trump as the nominee. And Trump won every one of those states, some of which by healthy margins. These are the sentiments in the Republican Party’s heartland weeks after Trump emerged the delegate leader. Rather than resign themselves to a Trump nomination, the GOP rank and file’s resistance is stiffening.
But that resistance will falter if the conservative movement’s most influential leaders become paralyzed with fear over the prospect of political violence. This would be a tragedy of unspeakable proportions. Trumpism cannot be accommodated or incorporated into the GOP. Those Trump supporters who might be moved to violence will not be mollified if only the party took a harder line on free trade or espoused the reformation of the earned income tax credit. A movement that will not tolerate representative proportionality or the horse-trading that occurs at a nominating convention is incompatible with the American system of governance, as we understand it today. One or the other must cease to exist.
Steel yourselves, conservative pundits. Your conviction and your ideals have not yet begun to be tested. There is a political fight coming, and preemptive submission will not yield you better terms.