Everything has changed. Republican leaders just don’t seem to know it yet.
Three more friends quit the GOP this week. That makes around 10 since April.
These were no RINOS — God, I detest that term — these were rock-ribbed Republicans, battle hardened campaign veterans who stood their ground defending the GOP when others ran. One led New York City’s oldest and largest Republican club in the mid 1990s. Another was a Soviet émigré turned Ronald Reagan Republican turned conservative writer. The third is my closest childhood friend. He’s never missed a vote. Ever.
Now, because of Donald Trump, all three have walked away from the GOP. Just like that. They no longer want to be identified with the party.
Last week, the magnitude of the Republican Party’s embrace of Trump, however reluctant, truly hit home for me. It happened in the most organic way.
I was talking to a teenager and sensed conservative leanings in her. It was my normal cue to put out feelers for the party — it’s automatic; I’ve done it thousands of times over a span of 30 years — and then I just didn’t. I found I no longer had the words.
It was a tiny thing, but it told me that my former party’s in even bigger trouble than I thought. Not only are stalwarts abandoning it; it’s no longer a reasonable sell to young people. In asking them to join a Trump-led GOP, you’re asking them to overlook the overtly racist statements of its standard-bearer. You’re asking them to join a party whose presidential candidate holds positions antithetical to bedrock American values, including freedom of religion and equal treatment under the law. You’re asking them to embrace a political institution that is allowing an unstable figure to lead it so as not to offend his core group of followers who hate the party with a passion and don’t understand what it stands for.
How can you ask that of young people while looking them in the eye?
Most Republicans I know are trying to ride out this year’s debacle; pray it’s a one election-cycle affair. Maybe it will be. But I’m not so sure. It feels like the damage is already done, deep below deck. The silhouette of the ship may still appear grand, but the water’s pouring in.
I especially feel terrible for Republican candidates. Most of them know Trump is a cancer on the party, but they’re stuck with him. If he utterly implodes, every Republican gain made during the past eight years could vanish in November. And so they hold their tongues. There is no other ballot line on which they can realistically run.
It’s torture watching Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan in particular. He’s a good man, twisted into knots. He’s too honest to dance around Trump’s racist statements when asked, but it’s also his sworn job to preserve a Republican House majority, which he sees as the country’s only hope for real economic recovery. So he nominally supports Trump, while calling him out for what he is. It’s an impossible situation, philosophically indefensible.
For about five minutes last week it looked like Trump might — just might — pull it together. He gave a solid teleprompter speech at his Westchester golf club. After a week of questioning the impartiality of a Mexican-American federal judge, you could hear a cautious sigh of relief in GOP circles. And then, as if out of spite, as if he wanted to again show that he WILL NOT BE managed, Trump started letting it fly again.
On Monday, he implied that President Barack Obama might sympathize with the Islamic State in its war against the west. On Wednesday, he complimented Russia’s Vladimir Putin for building a modern new nuclear arsenal that’s pointed at us.
This man can’t be president.
The Republican National Committee needs to admit that now, however disruptive it might be, or suffer the infamy of having let Ronald Reagan’s party slip beneath the waves.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.