After Donald Trump’s victory in the Indiana primary on Tuesday night, and Ted Cruz’ exit from the nominating contest, the chorus of mainstream Republicans calling on the party to accept the former television personality as its presidential candidate has grown louder.
“Donald Trump will be presumptive nominee,” wrote Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, on Twitter. “We all need to unite and focus on defeating Hillary Clinton,” his likely Democratic opponent.
Priebus later said Trump represents “something different and something new” and that “is probably good for our party.”
Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and a lion of the Christian right, called on Republicans to “unite in defeating Hillary and abandoning and repudiating the hapless ‘Never Trump’ nonsense.”
They won’t be the last.
The spectacle of so many once-respectable Republicans debasing themselves before the foulmouthed property tycoon from New York is a sad one to behold for everybody who believes America is better off with a sensible, center-right party.
From Chris Christie, the reformist New Jersey governor who was the only presidential contender to talk seriously about desperately-needed fixes to entitlements, throwing his support behind the one candidate who vows to make no changes to Medicaid or Social Security at all, to New Gingrich, the former House speaker who led the revival of conservatism as an intellectual and a governing philosophy in the 1990s, backing a man who is more ignorant and less fit for office than anyone who has ever got this close to the presidency in living memory, the last few months have seen Republican champion after Republican champion abdicate their responsibility to the future and health of their party — and indeed the republic.
Since the Atlantic Sentinel highlighted the worst of the “Vichy Republicans” in March, two man we once admired have joined their ranks: John Boehner, the pragmatic former House leader who managed to rescue the country from several funding crises despite the intransigence of many in his own party, and Jon Huntsman, the former China ambassador we endorsed for the right’s presidential nomination four years ago. Both have suggested in recent days that it’s time for Republicans to come to terms with a Trump candidacy.
Underestimating the danger
If they think the Republican Party can weather Trump and recover in time for the 2020 election, they are making a serious mistake.
In the best-case scenario, Republicans will still lose in four years’ time due to the lasting damage Trump has done to their brand with ethnic minorities, including Hispanics, America’s fastest-growing demographic.
In the worst case, this website has argued, Trump will split the right, perhaps augur in a party realignment that could relegate Republicans to congressional opposition for another decade.
If rather they think Trump can be controlled by the Republican majority in Congress — which seems safe no matter what happens in November thanks to a combination of gerrymandering and ideological solidification — they should ask Franz von Papen how that is likely to pan out.
The strongman’s smile
Every so many weeks, we read reports about Trump’s henchmen trying to make their boss act and look more “presidential”. For a day or two, the candidate tones it down. He does the things presidents-in-the-making are supposed to do, like delivering a proper news conference or giving a foreign-policy speech at a Washington DC thinktank.
And then a few days later it’s back to the bluster and the insults and the whining.
Why do Republicans so desperately want to believe in Trump’s new warmth? Andrew Sullivan argues in The New York Times Magazine that it’s because of the fear he has already inspired in them.
“Tyrants, like mob bosses, know the value of a smile,” he writes. “It’s part of the good-cop-bad-cop routine that will be familiar to anyone who has studied the presidency of Vladimir Putin.”
But it’s always an act.
Trump, writes Sullivan, is utterly lacking in self-control.
Sleeping a handful of hours a night, impulsively tweeting in the early hours, improvising madly on subjects he knows nothing about, Trump rants and raves as he surfs an entirely reactive media landscape.
Frank Bruni has similarly argued in The New York Times that what defines Trump is his constant need for validation.
He’s addicted to attention, demanding regular fixes and going to ever greater lengths — in terms of reckless statements and provocative acts — to get them.
Imagine what that would mean for a Trump presidency.
Sullivan again: “Trump is as mercurial and as unpredictable and as emotional as the daily Twitter stream.” And America is contemplating giving him the nuclear launch codes.
Every Republican who accepts this as the price to pay for party unity or justifies voting for Trump by arguing that at least he’s better than Hillary Clinton is making a mockery of their conservatives principles.
Let them use every tool at their disposal to stop Trump before it really is too late. Take away his delegates, change the rules at the convention, launch a third-party bid. If all else fails, vote for Clinton.
Plenty of sensible rightwingers could, if they’re honest, live with a four-year Clinton Administration, especially when it is likely to be curtailed by a Republican Congress.
Four years of Donald Trump, by contrast, is taking such a huge risk that no honorable Republican who seriously contemplates it could determine to make it happen.