Donald Trump is now the presumptive presidential nominee for the Republican Party, and a longtime conservative leader says whether Trump can unify the party or win in November is almost entirely up to him – and it involves at least two crucial decisions.
Richard Viguerie has been a prominent figure in the conservative movement for almost 60 years. He is chairman of ConservativeHQ.com and the author most recently of “Takeover: The 100-year Fight for the Soul of the GOP and How Conservatives Can Win It.”
Viguerie was an active Ted Cruz supporter, but said Trump won the Republican field by acknowledging and responding to the deep frustration Americans have toward Washington.
“How he did it was to ride the anger that a high percent of Americans feel toward the political establishment, Republicans and Democrats,” Viguerie told WND and Radio America.
He said that anger burned especially hot among Republican primary voters.
“There is white-hot anger among conservatives at the grassroots level toward Republican leaders who have lied to them and betrayed them for too many years,” Viguerie said. “This campaign was an opportunity to send them a message.”
But now that Trump has a clear path to a first-ballot nomination, Viguerie said the first and most important priority is to unite the party, which he says has not truly happened since 1988. Fifty-one percent of Indiana primary voters who did not back Trump told exit pollsters they would never vote for him. Polls in other states have shown similar numbers, and the #NeverTrump movement vows to oppose the presumptive nominee throughout the campaign.
Can the GOP come together?
“The most important moves coming up here in the period between now and the Republican convention is pretty much up to Trump,” Viguerie said. “If Trump takes the moves to unite the Republican Party, and it’s pretty much up to him to do that, I think he stands a strong chance of being elected president. We have to see if he’s serious about being the leader of a united party.”
Those unknowns, Viguerie said, could be the difference between a landslide win or a crushing loss.
“I can believe that Trump could get 40 percent of the vote, and I believe he could get 60 percent of the vote. It largely depends on him,” he said. “If he runs a good campaign and campaigns on issues that conservatives and Middle America is concerned about and he has articulated very well in this campaign, he could have a blowout election.”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Richard Viguerie:
For those insistent that Trump is unacceptable on ideological or personal grounds, regardless of whether he wins, Viguerie said the impact of a President Trump on the future of conservatism is also a blank slate.
“If he governs as a principled conservative, he has the ability to set the left back 50 or 100 years here. He really has the ability to do serious damage to the progressives,” Viguerie said. “But he could also do serious damage to the conservative cause. It’s very, very much up in the air right now.”
Viguerie said the first and most important step toward bringing the GOP together is the selection of a running mate.
“It’s less important what certain conservative leaders say or do,” he said. “The real test is how the grassroots respond to it. We saw in this election that the grassroots had a mind of their own.”
That being said, Viguerie does have a name at the top of his running-mate wish list.
“On that short list should be Newt Gingrich. I think Newt Gingrich is an intriguing idea,” he said. “There are others who should be on that list, including Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, but I’m particularly intrigued with the idea of Newt Gingrich.”
But he warns Trump that the wrong pick could be devastating.
“If he goes to the Republican establishment, a Paul Ryan type or Kasich, I think it’s going to be very, very difficult to have a united party, and without a united party they lose,” Viguerie said.
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In addition to the selection of a running mate, Viguerie said Trump needs to prove to conservatives that he will pick the right kind of judges for all levels of the federal judiciary. He said the people Trump chooses to flesh out policy will also be telling.
“Personnel is policy, and that’s the ballgame as far as conservatives are concerned,” he said. “Any candidate can promise the sun, the moon, the stars and believe it, but if they bring in big-government establishment types, moderate types, we’ve lost.”
While Viguerie believes unity is indispensable to winning, he said another quality is needed that he believes Trump has in abundance.
“He must be a fighter, and he must have a vice president who is also a fighter. If you bring the fight to the Democrats, this election is eminently winnable,” said Viguerie, who believes Hillary Clinton is a ripe target given her current strategy.
“Hillary is running as the third term of Barack Obama, and I don’t think he’s going to be very popular by November of this year after the Republicans load up on him,” Viguerie said.