In a campaign season already twisted beyond all recognition, Donald Trump's atrocious summer has offered shell-shocked Republicans a potential out: Where "Never Trump" has failed, a far more casual yet coldly calculated kiss-off could succeed.
Trump's missteps, willful and otherwise, are now so severe that Republicans are justified — and would be legitimated — in throwing him overboard in Cleveland. Bye bye, agonized soul searching. Hello, cruel common sense.
All the GOP has to do is relax.
Throughout this presidential campaign, I've done my best to remain level-headed. Rather than fearing Donald Trump, rather than venting my loathing for that which is detestable about him, I have tried — and counseled others to try — an attitude of watch and wait. Trump's pronunciations are not the surest path to civil disorder or public chaos. For that you need a critical mass of the rest of us to lose our nerve, turning panic into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Although many liberals and progressives I know have quietly shared their nightmare-like sense of certainty that Trump is going to somehow win come November, Republicans have had the hardest time trying to maintain sangfroid. Without question, the stakes are high; even a Trump win could prove disastrous to the GOP (and America, of course). And for principled conservatives, a thorny dilemma has grown around how to translate their conscience into political action, regardless of its impact on Election Day. Since Trump hit the magic number of delegates, it has seemed interchangeably counterproductive and embarrassing to field a third-party protest candidate, throw in with Hillary Clinton or perhaps Gary Johnson, or stay in bed with a bottle of bourbon and weep.
But Trump has now had his shot at rehearsing a general election campaign, and he has fallen flat on his face. It was bad enough that he blew his chance to assemble a team of respected foreign policy advisors, or that he swung incomprehensibly from pitching Latinos taco-bowl bromides to haranguing a thoroughly American judge for his Mexican heritage. These political farces were real, but they were not firing offenses. Then came June. Trump's already discouraging campaign lurched full-tilt toward disaster, from preposterously staggering fundraising problems to public and protracted palace infighting. The kicker came when news recently broke that Trump — in addition to paying large sums to Trump companies themselves — also coughed up cash for a mysteriously inscrutable firm named after the advertising executives from Mad Men. As a matter of sheer political responsibility, nominating this man is madness.
Of course, Trump critics have been saying this since almost the beginning. But until now, the case against Trump has defeated and delegitimized itself because of its ideological grounding. You can't just stage a convention "coup" because the candidate who clinched the delegates is mean, nasty, or bigoted. You can't do it because he disrespects NATO or badmouths free trade. And you certainly can't do it because you despise the rubes in your party who you somehow failed to keep in a box this time around. Sad!
You can, however, dump Trump for the clinical, confident reason that his campaign is collapsing of its own weight and whim. Yes, there's still time for a miracle turnaround. Yes, the general election is still months away. And yes, some polls show that Clinton still leads by only a handful of points. But the convention is the closest thing the GOP has to a performance review — to the tough-but-fair moment familiar from The Apprentice where, no matter what, if you've so far failed to produce adequate results, you're fired.
Trump's epic incompetence as a presidential candidate constitutes a political emergency even deeper and plainer than his jangled ideology. Any CEO, board, or shareholders would cut this guy loose and bring in someone who can close in an emergency. Trump's failure to measure up to the minimum campaign standard — and the prospect of even more spectacular faceplants to come — is the salvation Republicans have been searching for.
All they need now is a new candidate. That's hardly as daunting as it once seemed — because everyone should agree that almost anyone else will do.