There is a comic streak to the uproar among rich Republicans about Donald Trump. He must be stopped, sayeth the corporate/Club for Growth/austerity wing. They foam at the mouth: He's unscripted. He's willing to raise taxes on the rich. He's alienating Latinos and women. But mainly he's uncontrollable. And that the Establishment cannot abide.
The problem with getting this conspiracy off the ground is that we're in an election season and to beat Trump you need a candidate who can build a base and peel off some of his voters. And exactly who would that be?
Do a quick review of the 17 candidates and you get a sense of how deep the problem is. There are talented and intelligent people in the field. Rand Paul, John Kasich and Ted Cruz are smart; there are others. Some are obviously unelectable; Chris Christie and Rick Perry can't get out of their own way. But all have electoral problems that leave them unsuitable to steer the anti-Trump ship. You can't beat somebody with nobody.
There is an interesting alternative. Sitting on the sideline is a perfectly pleasant and experienced man who wants the job: Mitt Romney. He's a proven vote-getter in blue and purple states. He has high name recognition. Swing voters are available to him. He was competitive in a general election. He fell on his sword to the hard right four years ago. He's rich. And his persona is the anti-Trump.
Stranger things have happened. It will not be difficult for the Republican non-Trump voter to coalesce around him in ways they will not for any other declared candidate. He is the best single chance for a successful anti-Trump movement.
Be careful what you wish for. A Romney candidacy will starkly reveal the problems the GOP faces in 2016, and they are much bigger than the mercurial Trump. The GOP has become the vehicle for a set of ideas that American voters will reject in the general election, no matter who is the standard bearer. The country is fairly closely divided, to be sure. But the Republican catechism of anti-immigration, anti-gay, extreme anti-abortionism, tax cuts for the rich, austerity economics and overseas militarism is not a winning platform in general election.
Back to the Donald: He seems to grasp that the Republican message needs change, not just the messenger. Do not discount the political power of his attack on the hedge funds, or his nod toward the value of entitlement programs. He, alone among Republicans, is talking about ideas and moving the GOP off of its' subservience to the Koch brothers and the Club for Growth types. Yes, his appeal is partially his incendiary rhetoric. But its also a businessman's sense of what the consumer really wants.
Romney's appeal to the anti-Trump crowd would have to be managed enough to allow him to stray from the same-old, same-old Republican mantras that are dragging down the GOP. Don't underestimate Trump (he will not go quietly), Romney was not particularly adept at bridging gaps four years ago, and Hillary will sooner or later find her voice. But if the Republicans really want to stop the Donald, they need the Mitt.