By Hastings Wyman –
Donald Trump recently met with a group of Washington, DC Republicans in what was touted, by Trump and the media, as the beginning of a rapprochement between Trump and “the GOP establishment.”
The group of about two dozen, invited by Trump supporter US Sen. Jeff Sessions (AL), included a number of Southerners, among them US Sen. Tom Cotton (AR), US Reps. Scott DesJarlais (TN) and Renee Ellmers (NC), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (GA), former House Appropriations Committee chairman Bob Livingston (LA), and Heritage Foundation president and former US Sen. Jim DeMint (SC). Others present included US Reps. Chris Collins (NY), Duncan Hunter (CA) and Tom Marino (PA).
Most of those in attendance had endorsed Trump. Cotton had not and remains uncommitted. Gingrich told reporters that he had known Trump for years and often gave him advice, though he has not formally endorsed the New York billionaire. Livingston, now a Washington lobbyist, said after the meeting that he had voted for someone else in the primary, but was now endorsing Trump. Livingston said that the stop-Trump plans “are insulting to me and insulting to the process, and that’s why I’m getting involved,” reported the Times-Picayune.
The meeting, we have it on good authority, was cordial, and Trump went around the room asking for advice from everybody, putting him in the unusual position, at least publicly, of seeking advice from “politicians,” a category he has derided and sought to separate himself from. Nevertheless, everyone gave him their in-put, “some positive, some negative,” says SPR’s source, who was not present but was privy to what went on. Trump “listened and showed an interest” in the advice. As for some of his more controversial positions, “A lot of the stuff he’s throwing out there is just his first offer,” says our source, who suggests consulting Trump’s book, “The Art of the Deal,” for background on Trump’s strategies.
What is clear is that Trump’s powers-that-be are more accurately described as powers-that-were. A former House Speaker is impressive, but is not the current occupant of that important office, Paul Ryan. Moreover, neither Sessions nor Cotton can by any stretch be deemed a representative of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. National GOP chairman Reince Priebus was neither present, nor was a stand-in for him in attendance.
The meeting probably did Trump some good, bringing him in contact with some good political minds who might help him avoid pitfalls. But that is not what Trump needs. What he would appear to need is a coming together of the current Republican leadership, or a substantial portion of it, in Washington and across the country, signaling that they will get behind frontrunner Trump.
One reason for the reluctance of more prominent Republican officeholders to get behind Trump is that he has yet to discontinue the kind of very personal and often unsavory attacks that make many folks uneasy or hostile or angry with him, not just the so-called establishment, but also a lot a average voters. The current hoo-hah between Trump and Cruz over their wives, plus a salacious National Enquirer article, has drawn criticism in its own right as well as for being a trivial diversion in light of the terrorist attacks in Brussels. Indeed, these ill-timed Cruz-Trump confrontations make President Obama’s ballgame in Cuba and tango in Argentina seem almost respectful by comparison.
It may be, however, that Trump, whose political judgment has so far been superior to that of his well-connected opponents, doesn’t require, at this stage, any Big Dog endorsements. He has 678 delegates to 423 for Cruz and 143 for John Kasich, with 1,237 needed to cinch the nomination, and while it is not certain he will get them, it is likely that he will come close enough that he will end up winning the July convention in Cleveland without a lot of support from the GOP’s traditional centers of influence.
Indeed, if Trump does secure the GOP nomination without significant backing from the existing Republican leadership, the so-called Republican establishment may become known as the powers-that-were.
Then on to the General Election, when Trump will need all the help he can get against Hillary Clinton in a campaign that could be even more contentious than anything we’ve seen so far.
Stay tuned, if you can stand it.