It’s nice to know that not all Republicans have lost their minds. A sizable number realize that Donald Trump is a toxic demagogue who, if actually nominated, would take their party over the cliff. But few have been willing to publicly say so.
This week, however, two well-credentialed Republicans spoke up and minced no words. Doug Heye, a 25-year veteran of conservative politics and a former national party spokesman, called Trump “an existential danger to the party.” And Michael Gerson, former speechwriter and policy adviser to George W. Bush, went a step further: “If Trump were the nominee, the GOP would cease to be.”
Granted, Trump’s besotted fans couldn’t care less what these guys have to say. But rest assured, Heye and Gerson speak for many Republicans who – so far – have preferred to seethe in silence. (Worse yet, they seem incapable of uniting behind an alternative candidate. In the key New Hampshire contest, Trump benefits from having a divided opposition.) But if they’re looking for inspiration, here’s Heye:
Donald Trump as the Republican nominee would be catastrophic for Republican hopes to win the White House and maintain control of the Senate and would damage the party and the conservative cause for years to come. His having the legitimacy that comes with the nomination of a major political party would cause greater instability throughout the world at a time when the world looks to America for leadership that is serious and sober.
As a longtime conservative Republican campaign and Congressional aide, and former official of the Republican National Committee, not voting for the Republican nominee is an unimaginable scenario. But for the sake of my party and indeed, my country, while I will certainly vote for some Republican in November, if Trump is the nominee, I cannot vote for my party’s nominee.
Heye thus identified the key danger of a Trump nomination: Even if the mogul’s fans flocked to the polls — lured by his xenophobia, his racism, and his misogyny; galvanized by his serial lies — many sane Republicans would simply stay home. That’s a prescription for losing virtually all the major states. Gerson agrees. He says that many Republicans might flee to “a temporary home,” a third party. This would split the GOP electorate in November ’16, but so be it: “This might help elect Clinton, but it would preserve something of conservatism, held in trust, in the hope of better days.”
While Heye excorciates Trump’s ignorance of the issues (“the Emperor not only does not have any clothes; he does not have any answers”), and calls him a phony conservative who once supported liberal policies like single-payer health reform, Gerson warns that Trump would do much worse than lead the party to a devastating defeat. Ultimately, he says, Trump would erase the GOP’s founding values:
Whatever your view of Republican politicians, the aspiration, the self-conception, of the party was set by Abraham Lincoln: human dignity, honored by human freedom and undergirded by certain moral commitments, including compassion and tolerance …. It is this universality that Trump attacks. All of his angry resentment against invading Hispanics and Muslims adds up to a kind of ethno-nationalism — an assertion that the United States is being weakened and adulterated by the other. This is consistent with European, right-wing, anti-immigrant populism. It is not consistent with conservatism, which, at the very least, involves respect for institutions and commitment to reasoned, incremental change ….
All presidential nominees, to some extent, shape their parties into their own image. Trump would deface the GOP beyond recognition …. The nomination of Trump would reduce Republican politics — at the presidential level — to an enterprise of squalid prejudice …. By seizing the GOP, Trump would break it to pieces.
But unless a lot more Republicans are willing to brave the Trump mob and sound the alarm — ideally within the next few weeks, prior to the start of primary season balloting — Trumpism will continue to metastasize. It’s fine for outsiders to denounce the demagogue (this recent Doonsebury cartoon is brilliant), but the critical-mass pushback has to come from within. Unless or until that happens, each gesture of acquiesence (to wit, the pathetic Reince Priebus) nudges the GOP closer to disaster.