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Editorial: Dump Trump

The Detroit News

By now Republicans must recognize the evolving train wreck that is Donald Trump. If they continue to ride him as their presidential nominee, they can’t say they weren’t warned when he takes their party and its slate of candidates off the tracks.

In Michigan, Trump’s numbers have collapsed since May, when he clinched the nomination. The candidate’s unfiltered comments and bizarre behavior on the campaign trail are rapidly losing whatever charm they may once have had.

Richard Czuba of the Glengariff Group, pollster for The Detroit News, reports that Trump is sliding particularly in key areas of the state, such as Oakland County and western Wayne.

“It’s really stunning to see,” Czuba says. “There are regions in Oakland County where 25 to 26 percent of voters are telling us they don’t know or refuse to answer — and they’re largely GOP or leaning GOP voters.”

As voters in this state and elsewhere actually start to weigh Trump as a potential president, and not just as a nominee, they are recognizing his unfitness for the office. And they’re losing enthusiasm for a candidate many once hailed as an outsider who could change Washington.

“The real story in this election is the unbelievably low motivation numbers for GOP voters,” Czuba says. “Motivation will be a major problem for Republicans down the ballot. I suspect we’re looking at a low turnout election, with Democrats right now the only voters motivated to vote.”

This is now about self-preservation for Republicans. If their voters stay home, as the Michigan polling indicates they may, it will wipe out GOP candidates all down the ballot, as happened in the 2006 election when uninspired Republican voters stayed home in droves, costing them offices from county commissions to the U.S. senate.

If that theory plays out, it will mean not only Democratic retention of the White House, but quite likely loss of GOP majorities in the House and Senate as well as key state offices in Michigan and elsewhere.

Czuba says Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, is doing well among her own party, but is not drawing independents or disaffected Republicans. So there’s still an opportunity for Republicans to pull this out — with a different candidate.

Michigan is a swing state, and closely mirrors the makeup of the national electorate. As such, Czuba’s findings should be a warning flag for Republicans, and a motivation to act.

The party goes to Cleveland next month, and the outlook now is for a Trump coronation.

But Republicans are free to change their party rules before convention deliberations start to free delegates from allegiance to the results of state primaries and caucuses. And that’s what they should do.

This is an opportunity election for Republicans, and one they aren’t obliged to squander. While Trump has a majority of the convention delegates, the crowded GOP primary field meant more Republicans voted against him than for him.

Republicans should go to Cleveland next month with self-preservation as their top priority. A rule change that would free delegates to vote their conscience would very likely derail Trump and give the GOP a candidate who could exploit the opportunity presented by this election. While Hillary Clinton is retaining Democrats, there is little enthusiasm for her candidacy among Independents, according to Czuba, and not much of an inclination on the part of anti-Trump Republicans to cross over.

Donald Trump has always been questionable in terms of appeal to the broader electorate. Since knocking out the other GOP contenders, his statements and behavior have been erratic to the point of turning off a good number of Republican voters as well.

In addition, Trump has not held up his end of the bargain as a nominee. While Clinton has already raised more than $300 million, Trump has just a little more than $1 million on hand, despite his claim to being a billionaire self-funder. Major Republican donors are holding back, wary of what the candidate may say or do next. Already, four Republican Michigan congressmen — Fred Upton of St. Joseph, Justin Amash of Cascade Township, Bill Huizenga of Zeeland and John Moolenaar of Midland — are withholding their endorsements, and some Trump delegates have said they would like to switch.

The GOP doesn’t have to ride the Trump train out of Cleveland. Party rules allow for broad changes to the nominating process prior to the convention. So there’s a road map for dumping Trump. For the sake of preserving their party, Republicans should follow it.