The head of the Republican National Committee, responding to demands from increasingly worried party leaders, spent nearly an hour Wednesday on the phone with Donald Trump, urging the presidential candidate to tone down his inflammatory comments about immigration that have infuriated a key election constituency. The call from Chairman Reince Priebus, described by donors and consultants briefed on the conversation and confirmed by the RNC, underscores the extent to which Trump has gone from an embarrassment to a cause for serious alarm among top Republicans in Washington and nationwide.
Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump sat down yesterday with NBC News' Katy Tur, who asked the candidate about his impact on his party. "Do you think you're hurting the party?" she asked. "If you divide them so severely, will you be able to get the nomination and then become president?"
Trump responded that Fox News has been very impressed with his candidacy, adding, "I think I'm helping the party greatly."
It appears the RNC has come to a very different conclusion. The Washington Post reported overnight:
We don't yet know how their 45-minute conversation went -- neither Priebus nor Trump have offered any details -- but it's hard to imagine their chat going well. The RNC chairman, who has no meaningful leverage over any of his party's many, many presidential candidates, is effectively in a position of asking Trump to stop doing the one thing that's helping his campaign.
What possible incentive could Trump have to scrap a successful political strategy? In theory, he might have some party loyalty that would cause him to reconsider his broader partisan impact, but (a) Trump has convinced himself that he's "helping the party greatly"; and (b) he's not loyal to the Republican Party, to which Trump has vague and tenuous ties, so much as he's loyal to himself.
And at this point, racially charged and xenophobic rhetoric is working wonders for Donald Trump.
Priebus can make all kinds of good-faith appeals to the Republican candidate, urging him to dial it down several notches, but Trump will always be able to respond with the same simple question: "Or what?"
The clownish candidate has positioned himself as a top-tier contender, at least for now, by representing the Republican Party's nativist id -- and there's just not much the RNC can do about it.
Trump's rivals, meanwhile, are starting to distance themselves from his candidacy. Though Republicans were initially reluctant to say much of anything about Trump's racially charged rhetoric, Rachel noted on the show last night that Rick Perry, Chris Christie, Lindsey Graham, and others have become increasingly forceful in criticizing his antics.
To this extent, Trump's nonsense might have the inadvertent consequence of making his GOP rivals appear less ridiculous by comparison.
Stepping back, I am curious about one thing, though, that hasn't come up much. Even before Trump characterized undocumented Mexican immigrants as drug-carrying rapists, he was perhaps best known for an entirely different racist controversy: his crusade over President Obama's birthplace.
My question for those suddenly fleeing from Trump is this: you were comfortable with him before? The guy spent years obsessed with the president's birth certificate, and you only recently decided his crackpot antics have gone too far?