The Republic will stand after he sits.

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Trump Is a Nuisance, Not a Nightmare

Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist. He is a senior editor of National Review and the author of “The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life.”
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Donald Trump is not high on my list of people who ought to be the president of the United States. I would prefer a candidate who has a track record of conservatism. Who supports free trade. Who has served in elective office. Who can keep his petty resentments below the surface. And who doesn’t casually slander whole ethnic groups or call reporters “bimbos” for asking him tough questions.

But even after weeks and weeks of what has become the Summer of Trump, I can’t get worked up about him. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry said that Trump is “a cancer on conservatism” that has to be excised. Washington Post columnists George Will and Michael Gerson, among others, seem to agree. Gerson even chided those of us who have said that other political figures could stand to move partway toward Trump's position on immigration.

I just can’t take Trump that seriously. He is not going to be president. He’s not going to be the Republican nominee. He’s probably not going to hurt the eventual nominee’s chances of winning. Trump is an existential threat to the weakest primary candidates -- but not to anybody else.

Trump won’t win the primaries. How do I know?

  • Because parties don’t pick nominees who have never run for anything before, unless they happened to be the victorious Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in World War II a few years earlier.
  • Because major parties don’t succumb to sudden hostile takeovers.
  • Because too many of his supporters are just registering discontent before they make a real decision several months from now -- or have a low likelihood of voting in the primaries at all.
  • Because Republicans aren’t going to choose a nominee who wants to raise taxes on the rich. (A lot of Republicans may be fine with that idea, but a lot of opponents care deeply about it.)
  • Because Republican elected officials would consolidate behind a consensus choice if Trump started winning delegates.
  • Because the decisive Republican presidential primary voters are a pretty sober-minded bunch.

I’ll go further: Not only will Trump not be the nominee; his supporters won’t even determine who the eventual nominee is. Take away the celebrity-besotted, the non-voters, and the single-issue opponents of immigration, and you’re left with a group of conservatives who deeply dislike what they see as a spineless Republican establishment. These voters never determine the nominee, because too many of them waste their passion on hopeless candidates, such as Ben Carson, Michele Bachmann . . . Donald Trump.

In theory, Trump could hurt the eventual nominee even if he loses the primary, either by making a third-party run or by influencing the nominee to take unpopular positions. But a third-party run would happen only after Trump lost the primaries. Leaving aside legal and logistical issues, the successive losses would diminish him -- both because they would inevitably diminish anyone and because Trump in particular makes so much noise about being a huge winner. He’d have to run instead as a sore loser, and spend a lot of money to register in the single digits on Election Day.

Are voters who object to Trump going to hold his views against other Republicans? So far the data suggest that most people, whether they love him or hate him, distinguish Trump from other Republicans. Hispanics have a strongly negative view of Trump, but view several other Republicans positively. That’s what you’d expect for someone who has such a strong personal brand: People think he speaks for himself. 

Trump can’t pull any of the other candidates to take harmful positions against their will. The Washington Post asked whether Republicans “just gave away the 2016 election by raising birthright citizenship.” Answer: No. The overwhelming likelihood is that the Republican nominee will have no plans to end birthright citizenship. (Bush and Rubio have never called for it; Kasich and Walker now agree with them.)

So the risk Trump represents to the Republican Party, or conservatism, is really quite small. I understand why he gets some conservative commentators’ blood boiling. A lot of the resulting columns have been enjoyable. But some anti-Trump conservatives seem to think it’s a matter of great urgency for all decent and serious people on the right to denounce him or “stop him.” It’s not. This too shall pass.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author on this story:
Ramesh Ponnuru at rponnuru@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net