Micek: You're either with Trump or against him

John L. MIcek
John Micek, editorial and opinions editor for PennLive/The Patriot-News.

So U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan thinks Donald Trump's comments about the Mexican heritage of a federal judge hearing a civil case against him are an example of "textbook racism," but he won't rescind his endorsement of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee?

And U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, says he'll vote for Trump "but in terms of getting my endorsement, I don't endorse people that bash a judge based on his ethnic heritage."

Sorry, Republicans.

As the old saying goes, you can't be kind of pregnant. By backing Trump, you're giving your explicit endorsement to whatever nonsense comes tumbling out of his candyflake orange head.

And no amount of rhetorical contortions will get you out of that one.

You can't say you didn't know what you were getting into when he scurrilously suggested that all undocumented immigrants were rapists and murderers; when he suggested that the odious "Operation Wetback" might be a good model for deporting 11 million people; or when he proposed an unenforceable and fanciful ban on foreign Muslims.

Yes, the nativist twaddle Trump spouted worked to your advantage when he was deploying it against President Barack Obama or presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, herself a candidate who is, in many ways, as flawed as Trump himself.

But whatever angles of attack open to Republicans on Clinton — and there are plenty — fall to the wayside as the national party (filling the space that should be occupied by Trump's campaign, but is not because of its well-documented barebones nature) does damage control.

So why are senior Republicans infantilizing Trump by holding onto the vain hope that he'll somehow mature and grow into a proper presidential candidate?

"Using a prepared text ... and not attacking any other Americans was a good start," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said of a recent Trump speech. "I think it's still time for him to act like a presidential candidate should be acting. So I haven't given up hope."

If you're rejoicing that he got through one whole speech without managing to insult a religious, racial or ethnic group, then you've set the bar so low that it's essentially meaningless.

Liberated from his teleprompter, Trump took to Twitter to respond to the tragic shooting at an Orlando gay club, and ended up patting himself on the back.

"Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don't want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!"

As columnist Michael Gerson observed, Republicans are between a rock and a hard place.

On one hand, they can't very well turn their backs on the man who won the majority of the votes from GOP primary voters.

On the other, they're spending all their available free time (and political capital) putting out the Trumpian brush fires that erupt among key constituencies — such as Hispanics — every time their presumptive nominee gets too close to an open microphone or a device equipped with any sort of social media application.

Some Republicans, notably U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, as well as U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, of Pennsylvania, have remembered that both principle and the long-term future of the party are more important than short-term political gains.

But they are in the profound minority of their party as more Republicans jump aboard the Trump train.

Republicans, with justifiable pride, cling to their mantle as "the Party of Lincoln," and, for many years, that legacy stood in marked contrast to the Democrats of the segregationist south.

As fringe elements have risen to prominence, particularly since the emergence of the Tea Party movement in 2010, those days seem to be increasingly in the rearview mirror.

And Trump is putting ever more distance between them.

At the dawning of the American war in Iraq, another great Republican, Colin Powell, famously observed that if the United States broke Iraq, it would own the damage.

It was famously referred to as "The Pottery Barn Rule."

Republicans own Trump now. And they own whatever damage he'll wreak on both their party and the nation if he wins in November.

John Micek is the opinion editor and political columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.