NATIONAL HARBOR, MARYLAND — Donald Trump is tearing apart the Republican Party.
The party is bitterly split, with those who support Trump propelling him toward the nomination, and those that fear what he’ll do to their party doing everything they can to stop his rise.
That divide is on full display this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), a conservative convention held each year in the Washington, D.C. area. As former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney held a press conference Thursday, calling Trump a “phony” and a “fraud” who is not fit to run the country, some voters told ThinkProgress they too are worried about the future of the GOP. Others staunchly disagreed.
Demos Chrissos, a media consultant who calls himself a “professional provocateur,” said Trump deserves his success and that Romney should not be the person advising the GOP on its future.
“You’re talking about a guy who lost two elections,” he said. “I’m not giving any credibility to Romney at this point. As far as I’m concerned, Trump put immigration and put the whole security thing on the map, and he seems to be somebody that’s willing to fight for it. And Romney — he choked.”
Sporting a jersey-style shirt with Trump’s name written in large block letters across the back, Tracey Lewis told ThinkProgress that she has never liked Romney and that she “was ashamed to see him on that stage today” bashing Trump.
“This is not how Republicans should treat other Republicans,” the Pawleys Island, South Carolina resident said. “How many jobs has Romney created? He’s for open borders. He’s horrible on trade. And I just don’t think it’s proper.”
“It’s an election,” she continued. “Let the people vote. Let us vote and let us decide.”
But others at CPAC agreed with Romney, and thought the conference offered conservatives an opportunity to coalesce around a Trump alternative. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who dropped out of the presidential race last year, acknowledged that “some of you may be confused and dare I say even some upset by what’s happening in the presidential election.” And Rick Santorum, who also suspended his campaign, said that a lot of conservatives are “scared” and “nervous” about what’s happening in this presidential race.
CREDIT: Kira Lerner
Some conservatives used Romney’s remarks as a chance to attack his credentials and the campaign he ran in 2012. Lewis pointed out that Romney “supported amnesty,” and Seth Lynn, a Marine Corp veteran and director of the Veterans Campaign, criticized Romney for not mentioning veterans enough in his campaign.
Trump is not scheduled to speak to the conference until Saturday morning, but many attendees are already criticizing his credentials and his lack of conservative values.
“If Trump gets it, it’s really going to hurt the party and just the Republican image in general,” said Joseph Boisvert, a member of the Plymouth State University College Republicans. His friend, Dominic Lebel, added that “Trump is extremely dangerous for the Republican party.”
Lebel noted that not only will Trump hurt the party at a national level, but he will jeopardize the party’s control of states. “We’re going to lose state and local elections in the state of New Hampshire,” he said. “I know our state has been turning more and more purple from what used to be a red state, and Donald Trump is going to make sure definitely that that happens.”
And other conservatives held panels at CPAC to warn that the results of a Trump nomination could be disastrous. Conservative campaign consultant Mike Madrid told attendees that Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric will doom the GOP with Latino voters for “at least a generation.”
Madrid and Romney’s efforts on Thursday may be too little too late. Voters in the states that have already held elections have overwhelmingly shown their support for Trump, with the real estate mogul winning ten of 15 states so far and securing 319 delegates. And it’s looking increasingly unlikely that a more “establishment” candidate, like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, or John Kasich, will be able to compete with him, even when the field narrows.