David Brooks: Temporary 'Conservative' Third Party Would Lose White House, But "Preserve Integrity" Of GOP

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In his weekly appearance on Friday's PBS NewsHour, conservative columnist David Brooks says so many Republican voters are "depressed" that even conservatives now say they don't recognize their party. Brooks said he expects a Romney-led "Republican officialdom" launching a sustained attack on Trump and his narcissism to be "effective."

Brooks on Sen. Ben Sasse's idea for a "temporary third party" that would create a lane for a conservative to run for president. Brooks concedes this would be a losing venture, but it would "preserve" the Republican party and may save the Republican-held Senate.

Transcript, via PBS:

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, David, wasn’t it Mitt Romney’s recommendation that voters support, I think he said Rubio in Florida, Kasich in Ohio, Cruz in — I mean, he’s encouraging everyone to stay in.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, strategically, the idea is to get — prevent Trump from getting a majority of delegates.

But, Judy, I would say this is bigger than just one nomination. This is about the future of the Republican Party and really the future of the country. For almost a century-and-a-half, the Republican Party has stood for a certain free market version of America, an America that’s about openness, that’s about markets, that’s about opportunity, and a definition of what this country is.

Donald Trump offers a very contrasting image. It’s an image of closedness. It’s an image of building walls, of closing barriers, an authoritarian style of leadership. And so the Republican Party’s future is at stake.

And, you know, I think preserving that future in some coherent form is the number one task for the party. Ben Sasse, a senator, has said he is going to — he is advocating a temporary third party, just a conservative who could run for president. You would split the right-wing vote, the conservative voted, and you would lose the White House, but at least you would preserve some integrity of the party and maybe preserve the Senate and the House of Representatives, if you can get some conservatives to show up for the polls.

But that’s, I think, the frame in which to think, that it’s not just about one year. It’s about a long tradition in American politics which may be being replaced.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And in the short run, as David just said, Mark, that could be good news for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders or whoever is the Democratic nominee.

MARK SHIELDS: No, it could be.

But, at the same time, I don’t write off Donald Trump by any means. If you’re one of the two candidates on the field in…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean if there were three — if there were three candidates?

MARK SHIELDS: No, no. I mean, if, in fact, he is the nominee running against either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, it seems most plausibly Hillary Clinton right now — Hillary Clinton has tied herself, Judy, to President Obama.

She has run as Hillary Obama. She has made an appeal to African-American voters. She has made an appeal to the most loyal of Democrats, that she represents a continuation. So, whatever happens, whatever the October surprise is of 2016, and how President Obama handles it or doesn’t handle it, her fate is tied to him and his performance and the performance of his administration over the next eight months.

So, you know, it’s not a lay-down hand, as some Democrats say, oh, there’s no way Donald Trump — Donald Trump has enlarged the electorate in a way that is impressive. I mean, yes, he’s alienated a lot of the people David’s described. He’s brought in a lot of other people to vote in the Republican primary.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, David, what about that? There are people who have come out to vote in these primaries and caucuses who weren’t engaged in the — at least in the last few election cycles. Trump has brought them out.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. They have been displaced.

They have been displaced by the economic crisis. They feel they have been displaced by immigration. They feel they have been displaced by globalization and disrespected by the political class. And, of course, there’s some basis to that.

It’s hard to see how that wakes up into a natural governing majority, though. And I agree with Mark. If you have two people, then anybody could win. There could be a terrorist attack. There could be a recession. Nobody knows what could happen, and Trump could somehow vault into the White House.

But, given the numbers now, it’s very hard to see he could win, given the huge numbers of Americans, the vast majority of Americans who say they could not support the guy. And I still find it hard to believe that somebody as policy-thin and as knowledge-thin would very well — he might be able to wear well with the electorate that we have in the Republican primary. It’s really hard to see him wearing well with a general election electorate, which is a very different thing.

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