In early September, when Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus began asking presidential candidates to sign a loyalty pledge, groans could be heard throughout Jeb Bush’s headquarters. His senior staff in Miami saw it as a gimmicky, ultimately hollow ploy by Priebus to prevent the 17th candidate in the field, Donald Trump, from mounting an independent run.But rather than help the mainstream clip Trump out, signing onto Priebus’s pledge became a sign that Trump was officially in. It gave a degree of legitimacy to Trump’s mouthing-off that put it on par with campaigns that had been laying groundwork for years.
“We were absolutely furious,” one former Bush staffer recalled. “[Trump] is openly chiding us for communicating a conservative message in Spanish and they get on a train and go up to New York to give him a press conference and a pat on the back for joining the party. It was a total affront to us—because [the RNC] was no longer calling balls and strikes, they were actually helping him.”The party was now locked into accepting a candidate who wasn’t just undermining the autopsy at every point, he was taking positions that threatened even the traditional base. But Priebus continued to be so frightened of the idea of Trump as spoiler that he bent over backwards to include the real estate speculator in his plans. The specter of third-party Trump was so worrisome, that Priebus barely seemed to notice that Trump’s nationalist, militaristic, anti-immigrant, misogynistic message was simply flanking all the candidates.
Reince Priebus had been peddling reasonable, but the beneficiary of his actions was anything but. And by the time it became clear that coddling Trump in the early stages had made him well-nigh invulnerable on the greased-rail primary system, there was little left that Priebus could do but sign on.
Priebus chose to stay to aid and coach a candidate who may undermine the very things he has dedicated his tenure to improving. He has staked his reputation on Trump. To some extent, the tenuous unity visible at the Republican National Convention this week may be due to Priebus’ peacemaking efforts. And Trump’s near total dependence on much of what Priebus has built has made the RNC itself more vital than ever to Republican success in November. But in bending over backward to appease Trump in an effort to make sure the GOP didn’t crack up, the man who worked to strengthen the party has become a symbol of its weakness.Reince Priebus told Republicans to go left to find a future. Instead, Republicans went crazy. And all the tools that Priebus built, can only be used to tear what’s left of the party down to its meanest, glowering roots. With Priebus at the controls.
Odds are, no one will need to pay for that autopsy.