With the Republican Party establishment still on the sidelines, the conservative media elite has taken it upon itself to do something, anything to stop Donald Trump from becoming the GOP presidential nominee. Late Thursday, National Review, the conservative magazine founded by William F. Buckley Jr., went nuclear on the current GOP front-runner, releasing a special “Against Trump” issue that includes anti-Trump testimonies from 20-odd prominent conservative thinkers, including the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol and Foreign Affairs’ Yuval Levin. “Trump is a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones,” the accompanying editorial reads. (They’re not wrong!)
The effort prompted a prompt and predictable response, both from Trump (“Sad!”) and from the Republican National Committee, which removed the magazine from its spot as a media partner in next month’s pre–Super Tuesday GOP debate—similar to how the party cut debate ties with the New Hampshire Union-Leader after the paper used a front-page editorial to compare Trump to Biff from Back to the Future.
The question, of course, is: Will National Review’s broadside have any impact on Trump’s seemingly invincible campaign? I hate to sound like a broken record, but I doubt it.
In a normal world, you’d expect this type of consensus from the conservative media elite to spread to Republican politicians and other conservative pundits, and eventually trickle down to primary voters and caucusgoers. The world of Trump, though, has had little in common with a normal one. Conservative thinkers have been railing against Trump since he jumped into the race last summer—Kristol, in particular, has turned predictions of Trump’s imminent demise into a cottage industry—and, more recently, many conservative talk radio hosts have begun to turn on the real estate tycoon as well. Trump, though, remains on pace to post at least one campaign-altering victory in the first two nominating contests.
National Review’s gambit is unlikely to change that dynamic in the near term. Trump, after all, has survived similar Republican-in-Name-Only attacks before—from Fox News this summer, Jeb Bush this fall, and Ted Cruz this winter. There’s no evidence that most Trump fans share those concerns—and some evidence that when confronted with Trump’s past party apostasy, they actually like their man more. As focus groups and polls have shown, you just can’t convince a Donald Trump supporter not to support Donald Trump. I doubt a bunch of essays is going to change that.
Also working against the anti-Trump campaign? Mixed messages from the Republican establishment, which remains undecided on the question of who it dreads more, Trump or Cruz. While a remarkable number of GOP politicians have yet to back any candidate, we’ve seen a number offer anti-endorsements of one of the two front-runners in recent weeks—an unexpected divide that may be doing more good than harm to the two men since it allows both to burnish their anti-establishment bona fides while not facing unified party opposition.
Ultimately, many of the anti-Trump efforts ring hollow given every man and woman running for the nomination has made it clear that, push come to shove, they’d pull the lever for Trump if he is the nominee. In that regard, they share something with the conservative thinkers who are now warning that Trump would be the end of the Republican Party as they know it. Here is the opening line of Redstate founder Erick Erickson’s National Review entry: “I would vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.”