There was a moment during the 11th Republican debate that particularly stuck in my craw after the fact. No, it wasn’t when Donald Trump, following earlier puerile comments by a desperate Marco Rubio about the size of his, shall we say, equipment, mentioned—in a presidential debate, let me stress—that his manhood was sufficiently large. In retrospect, that may have been the moment when the 2016 U.S. presidential race officially jumped the shark. Even if there were cogent discussion of policy to ensue within this forum, it would’ve been overshadowed by external chatter about Trump and his junk. I mean, Jesus, what were we talking about anymore anyhow?
For me, rather, what really unnerved me was the moment when the remaining field of four candidates—Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump—were asked if they would support the eventual Republican Party nominee, whomever it would be. After a slew of personal attacks and musings about the magnitudes of their members, these proud men couldn’t agree to make such a pledge, could they? Could they? From the Washington Post transcript:
BRET BAIER: Gentlemen, this is the last question of the night. It has been a long time since our first debate, seven months ago in Cleveland. A lot has transpired since then, obviously, including an RNC pledge that all of you signed agreeing to support the party’s nominee and not to launch an independent run. Tonight, in 30 seconds, can you definitively say you will support the Republican nominee, even if that nominee is Donald J. Trump? Senator Rubio, yes or no?
MARCO RUBIO: I’ll support the Republican nominee.
BAIER: Mr. Trump? Yes or no?
RUBIO: I’ll support Donald if he’s the Republican nominee, and let me tell you why. Because the Democrats have two people left in the race. One of them is a socialist. America doesn’t want to be a socialist country. If you want to be a socialist country, then move to a socialist country. The other one is under FBI investigation. And not only is she under FBI investigation, she lied to the families of the victims of Benghazi, and anyone who lies to the families of victims who lost their lives in the service of our country can never be the commander- in-chief of the United States.
RUBIO: We must defeat Hillary Clinton.
BAIER: Senator Cruz, yes or no, you will support Donald Trump is he’s the nominee?
TED CRUZ: Yes, because I gave my word that I would. And what I have endeavored to do every day in the Senate is do what I said I would do. You know, just on Tuesday, we saw an overwhelming victory in the state of Texas where I won Texas by 17 percent. And I will say it was a powerful affirmation that the people who know me best, the people who I campaigned, who made promises that if you elect me, I’ll lead the fight against Obamacare, I’ll lead the fight against amnesty, I’ll lead the fight against our debt, and I will fight for the Bill of Rights and your rights every day, that the people of Texas said you have kept your word, and that’s what I’ll do as president.
BAIER: Governor Kasich, yes or no, would you support Donald Trump as the Republican nominee?
JOHN KASICH: Yeah. But — and I kind of think that, before it’s all said and done, I’ll be the nominee. But let me also say…
But let me also say, remember…
BAIER: But your answer is yes?
KASICH: But I’m the little engine that can. And, yeah, look, when you’re in the arena, and we’re in the arena. And the people out here watching — we’re in the arena, we’re traveling, we’re working, we spend time away from our family, when you’re in the arena, you enter a special circle. And you want to respect the people that you’re in the arena with. So if he ends up as the nominee — sometimes, he makes it a little bit hard — but, you know, I will support whoever is the Republican nominee for president.
CHRIS WALLACE: Mr. Trump, I’m going to ask you a version of the same question. As we saw today with Mitt Romney, the #NeverTrump movement is gaining steam. Some people are talking about contributing millions of dollars to try to stop you. Again today, you raised the possibility that you might run as an independent if you feel you’re treated unfairly by the Republican Party. So I’m going to phrase the question that the other three people on this stage just got. Can you definitively say tonight that you will definitely support the Republican nominee for president, even if it’s not you?
DONALD TRUMP: Even if it’s not me?
Let me just start off by saying…
WALLACE: Thirty seconds, sir.
TRUMP: … OK — that I’m very, very proud of — millions and millions of people have come to the Republican Party over the last little while. They’ve come to the Republican Party. And by the way, the Democrats are losing people. This is a trend that’s taking place. It’s the biggest thing happening in politics, and I’m very proud to be a part of it. And I’m going to give them some credit, too, even though they don’t deserve it. But the answer is: Yes, I will.
WALLACE: Yes, you will support the nominee of the party?
TRUMP: Yes, I will. Yes. I will.
Trump had nothing to lose by saying “yes.” By this point, the “Trump Train” was going full steam, and the other three candidates were all but tied to the tracks, waiting to be run over or praying for a derailment. But for Cruz, Kasich and Rubio, those damsels in distress hoping for a hero, they had everything to lose by saying they would support someone so dangerously unqualified for the presidency, someone they had just traded barbs with for over an hour. If they were going to show some backbone, some reason for Republican primary voters to seek them as an alternative to Small Hands McBaby-Dick, that was their moment to do so. Their last gasp of a campaign already on life support. For the love of God, guys, grow a pair and stand up for your principles!
But they didn’t. Following a disappointing showing in the primary of his own state, “Little” Marco Rubio bowed out of the race, and after a convincing win for Donald Trump in the Indiana primary, “Lyin'” Ted Cruz and John “I Wasn’t Relevant Enough for a Nickname” Kasich soon followed suit, paving the road forward to the nomination for Trump. For many sad supporters of the GOP—the party of Lincoln, as it is known to some—this was akin to its death knell. The Republican Party, as they knew it, was gone.
From the get-go, Republican leaders were notably lacking in their condemnation of Donald Trump. Maybe they thought he would flame out due to his lack of political credentials. Maybe they figured the presumed front-runners at the time would eventually rise above the fray and take command of the race. Following Trump’s announcement, however, the main concern of the Republican Party was seemingly the glut of candidates that would represent the GOP’s bevy of choices to take on Hillary Clinton. As Republican National Committee spokeswoman Allison Moore put it, “We have a neurosurgeon, major CEOs, accomplished governors and senators — all are highly talented people and capable of defeating Hillary Clinton.” This range of options, then, to the RNC, was a good thing, or at least was spun as such. After all, the Republican establishment had the likes of Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, Ron Paul, and Marco Rubio in its back pocket. Surely, a betting man or woman would take the field, no?
Indeed, Donald Trump’s race for the Republican Party nomination—the race within the race—seemed unlikely to end in victory for the orange-faced business tycoon. Especially when his leading strategy was to insult the entire country of Mexico and insist on them paying for a wall despite the high improbability of that ever happening. Trump’s strategy, if it can even be called coherent enough to qualify as a strategy, was a bold one. And it worked. “The Donald” kept saying crazy shit, and it only fueled his rise in the polls among the pool of GOP hopefuls. Alongside Mexicans, Trump attacked/insulted the Clintons, disabled people, Iowans, Jeb Bush, Jeb Bush some more, John McCain, the media, Muslims, the Pope, Ted Cruz, and women (notably Carly Fiorina and Megyn Kelly), just to name a few. And yet, prior to Donald Trump securing the nomination, establishment Republicans only sparingly criticized his childishness, his racism, his sexism, and the violence and xenophobia he encourages. Maybe this was partially because they suffer from some of the same symptoms themselves, notably on the xenophobia front. A wag of the finger for you, in particular, Chris Christie, for suggesting that we should refuse all Syrian refugees, including five-year-old orphans. This coming from your potential GOP vice presidential pick, America.
Otherwise, maybe it was for fear of getting involved in a war of words with Donald Trump, or out of worry, as Trump gained traction, of alienating his more avid supporters. Whatever the reasons, Republican leadership only commented sparingly in defense of the targets of Trump’s more egregious verbal assaults. Certainly, the swipe he took at Sen. John McCain as a prisoner of war for getting captured was wont to provoke a response of condemnation from most of his running mates. (Not so much Ted Cruz, but then again, he really is a weasel.) More recently, Donald Trump earned himself widespread rebukes from his adopted party when he suggested that Gonzalo Curiel, the judge assigned to a lawsuit against Trump University, can’t be trusted to do his job impartially because he is of Mexican heritage. These instances of more responsible reactions to Trump’s inflammatory remarks, unfortunately, have been too far and few between. Apparently, the RNC’s desire to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House supersedes the majority of concerns about treating certain groups of people as human beings.
The Republican outcry against the presumptive party nominee’s racist insinuations about Curiel may be singularly curious to some. Ben Mathis-Lilley, in a piece for Slate, probes the possible range of factors which may conspire to induce Republicans in shaking their heads at Donald Trump in this instance:
- “Trump is the nominee now.” While not going in very hard on Trump for his various insults prior to the close of the primary season, in envisioning any number of possible nominees and scenarios to wrest control of the party away from the billionaire, the GOP has long understood on some level what kind of damage his rhetoric could do to the party’s chances of reclaiming the White House and remaining in control of Congress.
- “This is exactly what Trump’s allies have been saying he won’t do anymore.” Yes, so they’ve said, but how do you tell a septuagenarian man-baby with an ego the size of Texas how to behave? Donald Trump can’t act “presidential” any more than Mitch McConnell can not act like a total douchebag.
- “Trump’s comments were very clearly insulting to a very large electoral group.” A.K.A. Latinos. After all this “wall at the Mexican border” business, it’s hard to imagine Donald Trump’s support among Hispanics/Latinos will be very auspicious for him come November. Still, the economy and national security are two issues which weigh on the hearts and minds of many Americans, and with the perception that Trump is strong on these issues (highly debatable), prospective voters of all ethnicities may be looking past his derisive comments in hopes of what he could do to the country. I’m sorry—that’s do for the country. Honest mistake.
- “Curiel is a relatable and formidable foil.” Basically, Mathis-Lilley is saying that, as an experienced American-born judge who has had to be specially protected as a target of Mexican cartel violence, Gonzalo Curiel is an unusually sympathetic figure for Donald Trump to single out. Again, this might go as much if not more to #3’s point, but either way, voters are less likely to side with Trump on this one.
- “Trump is human-whistling rather than dog-whistling.” Don’t get too caught up in trying to parse out the imagery here of who the human is and who the dog is here. The gist is this: Trump and the Republican Party desire to appeal to racist white people without losing too much of the non-racist white vote. It’s a fine line to walk, and Donald Trump, according to most, not only crossed it, but jumped over it from atop a trampoline.
With Donald Trump garnering enough pledged delegates to secure the Republican Party nomination outright, thus rendering any intended schemes of the GOP elite to wrest control away from Trump’s recklessness all but moot, the critical choice for party leaders, hearkening back to that fateful decision from the 11th debate, is whether or not to endorse the madman from Manhattan. Despite what may or may not have been pledged back in March, John Kasich, to his credit, has refused to endorse Donald Trump just yet, saying, “Why would I feel compelled to support someone whose positions I kind of fundamentally disagree with?” Ted Cruz has also seemingly backed off his stated stance from the debate, noting that he, “like many other voters am watching and listening what he says and what he does,” prior to any endorsement. And as for Marco Rubio? Sheesh, I don’t know what the man believes other than that he hates Hillary Clinton. Probably because he, like she, is a notorious flip-flopper, but I guess it comes with the territory as a Republican running for presidential office.
Other prominent Republican figures, on the other hand, haven’t shown nearly as much of a semblance of a spine. The worst offender in this regard, unsurprisingly, is Chris “Mr. Trump Would Like Fries with That” Christie. Whether you consider this a smart bit of political maneuvering on his part or a pathetic instance of debasing oneself and betraying one’s principles for the sake of job consideration (I personally favor the latter), Christie did not waste much time in throwing his support behind Donald Trump. According to reports, Chris Christie is set to head Donald Trump’s White House transition team should “Donnie with the Bad Hair” secure the presidency, but in the interim, as other accounts suggest, Christie has become a glorified “manservant” for Trump. Christie’s camp denies this assertion, but then again, they deny he had anything to do with the strategic closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge, when others are not quite so confident in the veracity of this statement, for a number of reasons.
As referenced in the “other accounts” comment in the preceding paragraph, an article by Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker outlines the delicate dance that so many Republican lawmakers must play—deciding whether or not to endorse Donald Trump with their own political futures (and dignities) to consider. The current climate of the GOP is, from a purely theoretical standpoint, very interestingly chaotic. On one hand, Paul Ryan and other establishment Republicans have been trying to a build a bridge to minority voters without alienating its, shall we say, more traditional constituency. On the other hand, Donald Trump and his supporters seem keen on burning that bridge, as well as a few crosses in the yards of those who don’t fit nicely into “their” America. Again, speaking purely theoretically, this is especially intriguing for those senators like John McCain and Marco Rubio who are soon up for re-election. Politics makes strange bedfellows sometimes, and someone like McCain supporting Trump after essentially being called less of a man despite Trump himself using medical deferments to effectively dodge being drafted, is simultaneously disappointing and enthralling.
Ultimately, for me, the decision of whether or not to endorse Donald Trump, for Republican politicians, lies in the strength of their conviction, alongside other character aspects. On one hand, not endorsing Trump might be viewed by Republican voters as lack of loyalty to the party. On the other hand, Trump is not your everyday Republican politician. The man repeatedly teased that he might run as an independent throughout the early primary season, and as far as core conservative values go, he differs from points of general consensus, in whole or in part, on key issues, including assault weapons bans, immigration policy, the role of the federal government in healthcare, taxing the wealthy, and women’s reproductive rights, not to mention, as someone who trumpets his personal wealth on the regular, he doesn’t seem to fit the traditional conservative mold. Besides, it’s not like Donald Trump is Mr. Popularity. I mean, if ever there were a candidate not to side with, it would be a jackass like “The Donald.” Thus, for those who choose to place party loyalty or personal political stature above notions of ethical and moral rectitude, at best, this speaks to their own sense of vanity, and at worst, to utter cowardice.
Additionally, allegiance to Trump is fraught with danger. Sure, as noted, there is risk in not endorsing him for fear of being seen as someone other than a team player, but by the same token, if Donald Trump—Heaven forbid—actually wins the general election, and turns out to be as awful a president as many of us think he would be, that public support for him could backfire for all those who express it. Regardless of the final outcome, for as many GOP leaders to fail to come out against Trump or to stand by him outright, they are effectively standing with hatred personified. Oh, they might insist they don’t share all of his beliefs, but you can’t just pick and choose when he talks about barring Muslims from entering the country or building a wall at the Mexican border. With Donald Trump, you can’t have it both ways.
It says something about your party’s candidate when one of its foremost thinkers and writers, George Will, says he’s leaving as a direct result of that candidate’s actions and beliefs. But I think it speaks volumes about those practicing GOP policymakers who have made that proverbial deal with the Devil, or continue to dodge and deflect on the issue. Say what you want about Donald Trump, but the Republican leaders who know better and choose to support him anyway are truly the most contemptible sort this election cycle. Shame on them.