During the Republican primary, I generally refrained from using the electability argument. Electability is important, but the arguments often seemed to me counterproductive and almost always conveniently supported the candidate of choice of the person making it. John Kasich is the “only one” who can beat Hillary because he is a moderate and will appeal to centrists. Cruz is too conservative. Or Cruz is the “only one” who can beat Hillary because he will fire up the base and bring them to the polls. Kasich will inspire apathy in voters like Romney did.
First of all, if someone is going to pronounce their candidate the “only one” who can win, I want to see some data to back that up, not just boilerplate prognostications that support the narrative of the one making them. Second, if a particular candidate is the “only one” who can beat a very flawed candidate in Hillary Clinton, that doesn’t say much for your party or your platform. While I am a longtime paleoconservative with very firm beliefs, I prefer Kasich and Cruz to Hillary, even though I didn’t support either in the primary. Declaring all the other candidates but your own dead meat in the general has always struck me as unhelpful. Why do you want to dis the electoral chances of your party and anyone who might wind up representing it?
The fact is that our Presidential elections have tended to be relatively close affairs in the last several cycles because the country is fairly evenly divided and highly polarized. Most states and most voters are not really up for grabs. We already know how most states are going to vote in November and how most individuals are going to vote, and we knew these four years ago. This is regardless of who the Republican candidate is. Virtually any Republican candidate has a chance to win the general depending on how other factors play out and affect the margin that is actually up for grabs.
That said, when Donald Trump was plowing through his competition in the primary, I was pretty sure he was going to win the general. His supporters are very enthusiastic and likely to show up at the polls. He attracts disaffected voters and blue collar Democrats and could potentially turn some Rust Belt states Red. Hillary is unpopular, uninspiring and should be very vulnerable. But this calculus was based on Trump maintaining the essentially given GOP share of the vote and competing with Hillary on the margins for the votes and states that are truly at play. I ‘m still very much an enthusiastic Trump supporter, but I’m less certain than I was about his prospects in the general because the NeverTrumpers are doing their darnest to see to it that Trump can’t count on all the usually given Republican vote. I still don't rule out Hillary being indicted or some other big bombshell, but Trump is being harmed by what is supposed to be his own side and this is obviously not helping his prospects in the general.
Trump is being pounded by the “mainstream” media and the usual voices on the left, but he is also being battered incessantly by ostensible Republicans and conservatives who should be on his side and have his back, and very often these so-called Republicans and conservatives are parroting blatantly leftist themes and biased liberal media spin. How they think echoing the liberal machine is going to help the cause of conservatism is beyond me. The anti-Trump folks keep saying he is going to lose as they continue to bash away. There is a self-fulfilling prophesy aspect of this that is impossible to miss or deny. They are without excuse. If Trump loses the general, the anti-Trumpers will say it was the fault of Trump supporters for nominating him, but they’re not stupid, and they know this is a disingenuous argument.
Another frequent argument that I don’t make, is the argument made by my own pro-Trump side in this case that a vote for anyone other than Trump is a vote for Hillary. I don’t make that argument because I don’t agree with it, and I’m not in a position to make it anyway. I have vocally supported the Constitution Party nominee in every Presidential election since 1996 because my candidate of choice didn’t win the Republican primary. That said, while I supported the CP nominee, I didn't ultimately want the GOP candidate to lose. I still understood that the policies I support were going to at least be marginally better served by the Republican nominee than the Democrat nominee. As a non-interventionist on foreign policy, this was not the case for the issue of war and peace, but I could never bring myself to root for a Democrat victory on account of foreign policy alone. Supporting the CP nominee was essentially a cost free point making exercise that gave me a rhetorical platform from which to chastise wayward Republicans. It was cost free because I knew that my vote for the CP nominee wasn't going to change the outcome.
The NeverTrump movement and the convention coup plot are another thing altogether. These have real potential to alter the outcome of the general election for the worse. It is delusional to believe that Trump can be replaced as the nominee by someone else at the convention, Kasich for example, and that the replacement nominee will then go on to win in November baring an indictment of Hillary or some other sort of implosion. Recent Presidential elections have a lot to do with turnout and enthusiasm and there is not a lot of margin for error. Do the NeverTrumpers really believe that all the enthusiastic Trump supporters would just take such treachery lying down, especially when it would perfectly play into their us against them narrative? Many won't vote at all and some will vote for Hillary out of spite, and some will take it out on Republicans down the ballot. I also don’t rule out that there could be some real unrest at the convention if this happens. And no, to all the bed-wetting hysterics who claimed Trump was inciting violence when he made a similar prediction, that is not inciting violence. It is making a reasonable prediction. (For the record, if Trump is denied the nomination at the Convention, I'll vote for the Constitution Party nominee Darrell Castle.)
Some of the NeverTrump leadership would clearly prefer Hillary to Trump because they prefer her policies and/or because they want to spite Trump and his supporters. But for the NeverTrumpers who would actually prefer Trump to Hillary, their strategy of bashing him and trying to replace him is profoundly counterproductive, and it strikes me that this is glaringly obvious.
Clearly the best chance for a Republican victory in November is with Trump as the nominee with as unified a party and base as possible behind him. It is not with Kasich or some random Republican governor who would have been placed on the ballot by unprecedented chicanery. Again, this strikes me as glaringly obvious. So the effort to bash Trump and replace him is very unlikely to succeed, and if it does would result in disaster for the party and replacement nominee, but unlike advocating for the CP candidate, it is not cost free. It is already taking a toll on Trump and making it more likely that Hillary will be elected.
The wise thing for sincere anti-Trumpers who ultimately prefer Trump to Hillary to do at this point is to just be quiet about Trump and accept the will of the primary voters. The time for attacking Trump was in the primary. They did so, and Trump won anyway. They don't have to become enthusiastic supporters. They just need to shut up and stop trashing him. For those who don't follow this course, I think it is fair to suggest that they really deep down are more invested in Trump losing than Hillary losing (This is probably a more accurate characterization than saying they support a Hillary win.) because that's what their efforts are objectively helping to bring about.
When you look at the forces that are arrayed against Trump - globalists vs. nationalists, the elites vs. the masses, insiders vs. outsiders, regulars vs. irregulars - do anti-Trumpers really want to be on the wrong side of that grand divide?