Guest Editorial: The worst-case GOP scenario
Donald Trump is now what he has claimed to be for some time: the presumptive Republican nominee for president. His attainment of that status this week is a triumph for him and a tragedy for both his party and the country.
Trump’s lopsided victory in Tuesday’s Indiana primary, the latest in a string of double-digit wins, prompted Sen. Ted Cruz to suspend his campaign even before the final ballots were counted. On Wednesday Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the last, best hope of Republicans appalled by the bombastic businessman’s ascent, announced that he too would leave the race. Kasich’s departure deprives voters in the remaining Republican primaries of a meaningful choice.
Trump’s imminent capture of the Republican nomination is a monumental and mind-boggling political achievement. Over the last several months, to the surprise and embarrassment of pundits and political professionals alike, this political novice has eliminated one prominent and better qualified opponent after another. The casualty list includes current and former governors — most notably Jeb Bush, the well-funded scion of a political dynasty — and two senators who were considered rising Republican stars: Texas’ Cruz and Florida’s Marco Rubio.
Clearly Trump has connected with many voters, channeling anxieties about cultural change, a long-stagnant economy, globalization and a series of failed military interventions. Yet Republicans have ample reason to fear the consequences of a Trump nomination, not only for the presidential election but for contests further down the ballot.
After the 2012 election, an “autopsy” commissioned by the chairman of the Republican National Committee concluded that the party’s future success would depend on reaching out to women and minorities. “Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the party represents and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them,” the report of the party’s Growth and Opportunity Project observed. “When someone rolls their eyes at us, they are not likely to open their ears to us.”
Expect plenty of eye-rolling and deaf ears once the party nominates a man who demeans women, describes Mexican immigrants as rapists and proposes a ban (albeit a temporary one) on any foreign Muslim entering the United States.
The peril Trump poses for Republican electoral prospects doesn’t alter the fact that the country as a whole would also be endangered by his selection as the Republican standard-bearer. Yes, some polls suggest that Trump would fare disastrously in the general election. The problem is that, armed with a major-party nomination, even an unqualified underdog might squeak into the Oval Office in the event of a national catastrophe or a crisis in the opposing campaign.
In the coming weeks and months, we can expect Trump and his advisers to attempt a series of makeovers to smooth out the rough edges of his persona. Indeed, the cosmetic surgery has already begun with the uncharacteristically restrained (but still muddled and self-contradictory) foreign-policy speech Trump delivered in Washington last month.
It’s important that voters not be fooled by the revisionist project, and instead focus on Trump as he is and as he may be again if he wins the Oval Office in November: a superficial, poorly informed, vindictive and egotistical man who seems incapable of stifling the impulse to lash out at critics, political opponents and anyone else who bruises his vanity. Those traits may not be liabilities in a business career or on a reality television show, but they could be fatal in a commander-in-chief and the representative of the U.S. on the world stage. That Trump is nevertheless on the verge of being acclaimed as the Republican nominee is deeply depressing.
Trump’s nomination may be a foregone conclusion, but prominent Republicans who recognize the threat he poses to their party aren’t obliged to fall into line. They can strike profiles in courage by saying publicly what they believe in their hearts: “Never Trump.”