To save our republic and the Republican Party, a senator from a different era offers a roadmap.
The great Roman orator Cato the Elder had a fierce hatred for Rome's mortal enemy, Carthage. So much so that Cato would end every speech, regardless of topic, with a reminder -- "Carthago delenda est" -- Carthage must be destroyed.
Cato rightly saw the Carthaginians as an existential threat to the Roman Republic. Like Carthage, Trump is a behemoth with sway over the same territory that the GOP covets.
Trump channels the populism of Patrick Buchanan of the 1990s. His appeal to the public strikes deeply at the GOP establishment which has utterly failed to address the concerns of what Nixon, and now Trump's own signage, called the "silent majority." These voters and taxpayers are sick and tired of being run over, run down, and run off by their "betters."
When pollsters and demographers examine "Trump voters" they find them largely white, angry and economically struggling. Their America appears to be in the rear view mirror -- where hard work, strong morals and an unwavering resolve were rewarded with opportunity and eventual success.
As the New York Times' Nate Cohn's analysis showed last week, the GOP frontrunner runs best with blue collar, rural registered Democrats. They have taken a beating in recent decades. Trade agreements and economic shifts have sent the good paying union jobs they once held to sweatshops in developing countries. The private sector unions that defended them have entered into terminal decline. Society seems to have undermined their sense of self as cultural values alien to them have become the norm, and government bureaucrats and the coastal elites seem to have grown more overbearing.
These are powerful realities for people in Trump's America that the political prognosticators, who rarely send their children into the military or get their hands dirty at work, don't understand. Trump is an enigma to them -- at once part of their club, moneyed, well-educated and successful, yet appealing to a group of people who are so different.
To follow Cato's advice, the Romans went outside their comfort zone and built a serious navy -- something they didn't have beforehand -- to take on and destroy Carthage on its own terms.
The conservative base can undo Trump by first acknowledging and then embracing the cause of the righteous anger that has catapulted Trump to the top spot in the field. The complaints about lack of opportunity and Washington's complicity in the diminishing optimism of the American people have to be folded into the message of every non-Trump candidate.
That may be a difficult task with this current crop of contenders, each with his own claim to privilege and elitism, but it's an obstacle that can be overcome.
The candidate who beats Trump (or a collection of the also-rans in tandem) has to unwind Trump's self-made, fire-breathing populist narrative.
Trump is no true conservative. He's not even a reactionary in the best sense of the word. He's a self-aggrandizing opportunist. His policies go no further than his catchphrase, "you're fired." Listening to his first television ad is like a preview for a bad movie -- an empty supercut of the highlights (or lowlights) without the plot being revealed because it's so thin.
Trump is no everyman. He built his empire with $100 million from his wealthy father. Far from born into working or middle class, Trump never struggled a day in his life except by his own failings in business and the resulting repeated bankruptcies. His privileged background enabled him to make money off money -- not exactly high on the hierarchy of middle-class values.
As for being incorruptible, Trump gave big to politicians. He admitted that was meant to buy favors. His policy positions are similarly ephemeral -- he supported the Big Government policies of Democrats and slippery values of the Clintons when it suited him. Steadfast, he is not.
If his opponents can show Trump is the emperor with no clothes, they can win over voters. When attacked, Trump seems to grow stronger but to date Trump's phony persona has yet to be unmasked. That's his Achilles' heel with his voters. An inauthentic and craven Trump would have little appeal to those seeking a candidate who would really fight for them.
The consequences of failure are huge. Not only is Trump's support base incapable of winning 270 electoral votes and the presidency, his unpredictability and inconsistency are liabilities and deeply dangerous for those who want to govern as conservatives in a methodical and principled way.
If Trump continues to do well, there could be all kinds of consequences for Republicans who want to truly address the cultural, economic and personal struggles of the voters who now stand with him.
We don't need more damage to the conservative brand. Trump must be destroyed or conservatism and the GOP will be.