Long ago and far away, in the days when white men in power ties and women in funny hats gathered in air-conditioned caverns to hammer out the Republican Party platform, it was a predictable affair. The Republican Party was for less taxes and less government, free trade and free people, a scolding of victims and grievance-mongers, and a vision of social norms circa 1952.
As time went on, they let the cranks and the racists in, the fact-deniers and the extreme gun nuts, the xenophobes and the nature-haters, because the big tent could take in all that extra gas without overheating. They would tolerate “those people,” who you picture looking like that dude who sucker-punched a protester at a Trump rally, because they needed them.
Now imagine the Republican Party gathering for its convention in Cleveland and hammering out a vanity platform in Donald Trump’s image. It’s all walls and no bridges. Free trade is gone. Taxes? Who knows. There will be a call for more government, through a bloated military, and untouched benefits for seniors who must be pandered to. Most significantly, it’s a party of grudges and grievances, of anger and fear by that formerly detested class – victims.
It'll be a personality cult, without a hint of optimism, and certainly no overarching governing philosophy. If you’re young, nonwhite, science-based and civil, there will be nothing in it for you. And it will be rejected in every precinct of the United States where hope still beats hate, which is a majority, albeit a shrinking one.
Given that scenario, the party cannot hold together. As Marco Rubio said in his exit speech, the politics of resentment will “leave us as a nation where people literally hate each other.”
The Republican Party, under Trump, is headed for a combustive breakup. Ronald Reagan envisioned a shining city on a hill. Trump represents nothing more than a thug with money. Can the man who shouts “I’d like to punch him in face!” and “Knock the crap out of them!” about protesters possibly quote Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower or Reagan in his acceptance speech? He could, but it would be no more plausible than a fish doing a tap dance.
In temperament and judgment, this is now Trump’s party. And take him at his word: His supporters will riot, as he predicted this week, if he doesn’t get his way. Sane Republicans, perhaps a third of the party, have no choice but to plot an honorable discharge.
The exit polls in Ohio found that 42 percent of Republicans said they would consider a third-party candidate. They can also support Hillary Clinton, or sit this one out. But they cannot show up in Cleveland and have their principles paved over by Trump’s bullies.
There is no getting around how much Trump’s followers now echo his darkest sentiments. In Tuesday’s exit polls, huge majorities of Trump supporters backed his call to ban Muslims from entering the country, and for rounding up and deporting 11 million illegal immigrants.
Was it so long ago – December, actually – that leading Republicans condemned Trump’s call for a faith-based ban? (“What was proposed yesterday is not what this party stands for,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, “and more importantly it’s not what this country stands for.”)
Come July, his party will stand for just that. It’s only the start of the many awful, un-American stands that Republicans will be forced to accept when Trump becomes the standard-bearer.
This month, members of the Republican national security community issued a strongly worded missive against Trump. They said his trade policies would be a “recipe for economic disaster,” that his embrace of torture was “inexcusable,” that his anti-Muslim campaign would badly damage U.S. interests abroad, and on and on and on.
Where were these people six months ago? Laughing at the orange-haired clown with the rest of us. But if this who’s who of Republican foreign policy cardinals is serious about their words, they have no choice but to leave the party this summer. Either that or accept the man who said he got foreign policy advice “speaking with myself.” For him, a glance in the mirror is enough. “I have a very good brain,” Trump said.
Remember that Republican autopsy after Barack Obama swept to a second term with 5 million more votes than Mitt Romney? They called for an inclusive party, open to minorities, the young, with an optimistic vision of the country. What they’ve got now is a dour, vengeful grievance party, epitomized by Trump’s two biggest endorsers – Sarah Palin and Chris Christie.
The polls show what will happen. Not in modern times has a major party nominated a candidate who is so disliked across the board. More than 60 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of Trump. And half of the women polled have a “very unfavorable” view of him.
The choice for honorable Republicans – should I stay or should I go? – is obvious, though not easy. Leave this summer, or forever live with the consequences.