In the interest of fairness, I wish to raise an issue on which Donald Trump has been consistently and resoundingly right: The Republican Party is utterly pathetic.
During a decade of commentary, and in a career of government service before that, I have often argued that the GOP is better than its liberal stereotypes. It is a case I can no longer make, at least when it comes to presidential politics.
The Trump ascendency is the triumph of anti-reason – of birtherism, of vaccine denialism, of suggestions that Justice Antonin Scalia was smothered with a pillow and that Hillary Clinton may have been involved in the death of Vince Foster. It is the triumph of nativism – of a political appeal based on hatred against migrants and Muslims. It is the triumph of white nationalism, which has moved inward from the fringes of Republican politics. It is the triumph of misogyny, demonstrated with words that require a disinfectant shower after hearing. It is the triumph of authoritarian impulses.
Trump has made the party a laughingstock among the young, a toxic brand among minorities, an offense to many women, a source of worry among American allies and alarm among national security professionals.
Steve Bannon, the CEO of Trump’s campaign, once said, “What we need to do is bitch-slap the Republican Party.”
Trump can hardly maintain, for even five minutes, the pose of apology for predatory and abusive language against women before dismissing it as “salty language” or the equivalent of a “sneeze.” Yet Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus calls his apology “heartfelt,” a description he must know to be false. And running-mate Mike Pence goes further, urging evangelicals to accept Trump’s “apology” because they are required to believe in “grace and forgiveness.”
There is also a group of Republicans who unendorsed Trump after the most recent taped evidence of misogyny, only to withdraw their unendorsements under pressure.
This much is clear: Republican leaders offered no effective resistance to the ideological and political demolition of their party. Which may give George W. Bush the distinction of being the last Republican president.
Trump, it appears, has ceased to seriously pursue that office, using American democracy to work out his inner demons or perhaps to position his brand. And he may well take the country down a post-election rabbit hole by questioning the legitimacy of what he is already calling a “rigged system” and “a total fix job.”
But assuming Trump is one of American history’s biggest losers it will be more difficult for him to make the charge of loserhood against others. Massive electoral repudiation might speak a language that Republican leaders finally understand, after proving themselves unable to learn the strange tongues of conviction and courage.
This would set the stage for the recovery of a hopeful center-right conservatism that sees politics as something nobler than scalp-hunting – a politics that begins with gratitude for our national blessings and views America’s flaws and failures as occasions for common purpose. This task, however, will start from scratch. A building on a ruin.
Michael Gerson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.