Here are some of the things Republican supporters have said about Donald Trump, courtesy of Talking Points Memo:
“Well, look, I’m a Republican, I’m on the ballot in November. I support the Republican nominee for president. It’s pretty much that simple.” (OK Rep. Tom Cole)
“Do I think that he will modify his positions or maybe explain them more completely? Yes, I think he will. I’m hopeful that the leaders in positions of responsibility in our country will give him the opportunity to do that and to enlighten him when they think he’s misinformed.” (GA Gov. Nathan Deal)
“I have an obligation to support him. It would be pretty hypocritical of me not to support Mr. Trump. I do think he’s not our perfect nominee.” (TX Rep. Joe Barton)
“I’ve endorsed Trump because he’s our candidate. . . . Whether you like him or not, the people voted for him. The people spoke.” (TX Rep. Roger Williams)
“I’ve said for a year I’m going to support the nominee and Donald Trump won the old-fashioned way. He got the most votes.” (WY Sen. Mike Barasso)
“He’s our nominee. He’s the only one there.” (OK Rep. Markwayne Mullin)
“You don’t always go on the field with the perfect team, but you still go out there to win.” (GA Rep. Lynn Westmoreland)
“So it is not the choice I had hoped to be presented with, but I guess this is where we are.” (PA Sen. Pat Toomey)
“We need to come to grips with the reality.” (TX Gov. Greg Abbott)
Remember, these quotes are from Republican supporters. Then there’s House Speaker Paul Ryan, who called Trump’s remarks about Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the federal judge of Mexican descent presiding over the Trump University fraud case, the “textbook definition of a racist comment”—without withdrawing his support. Or as the New York Times headline put it, “Paul Ryan Calls Donald Trump’s Attack on Judge ‘Racist,’ but Still Backs Him.” And of course there’s Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who admits that Trump doesn’t know a lot, doesn’t exhibit the seriousness of purpose expected of a president, and has said “a whole series of things” that McConnell finds objectionable. But McConnell is happy to support Trump as long as he “keeps to the script” and doesn’t show voters what he really believes. That’s the only path to victory, and victory matters above all else.
These Republicans are trying to do the impossible by simultaneously supporting and distancing themselves from their nominee. They are all supporting Trump because he is a Republican, but they often won’t mention his name and dare not acknowledge his views. Try sustaining that contradiction for the next five months. And why? Because somehow Hillary Clinton would be worse than an ill-tempered, unprepared candidate who spews racist invective?
I have heard Republicans express the hope that he can be coached or contained, or that he will change. He won’t. There are no mysteries about Donald Trump—he has been a public figure for thirty-plus years. This is who he is. His statements are not gaffes; they are what he thinks. And what he thinks about most is himself. His campaign is not about the country or the party or its members who struggle hard to find a way to embrace him from a distance, noses held. They may implore him to tone it down, but he will disregard their wishes because their wishes are not important to him. He expects only their loyalty, and if he does not get it, then they are losers. That’s how Trump operates, and that’s why every Republican who embraces him in whole or in part is diminished.
There’s another way.
Consider the words of South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said outright that he could not support Donald Trump because he has not “displayed the judgment and temperament to serve as Commander in Chief.”
Was that so hard?
Lindsey Graham is showing Republicans the way to the fifth step: Repudiate the nominee.
Nothing good can come from supporting Trump. Nothing good can come from going down to defeat with him, and nothing good can come from winning with him. So Republicans: let go of this election and walk away from your nominee. Do it now while it means something. To do otherwise makes you look craven, as though you would foist upon the American people someone you know to be unfit just to hold on to power. Repudiate him now and you can build the moral authority you lost through the cynical choice to marginalize and delegitimize Obama and his supporters, moral authority that will be your first stepping stone on the long road back to respectability and competitiveness in a complex, changing electorate.
It is evident to Lindsey Graham that Donald Trump is not suited to hold the office he seeks. It is evident to everyone trying to have it both ways by offering a non-endorsement. So why not just say it?
Say it out loud.
Say it like his primary opponents said it when no one believed Trump would be the nominee.
Say it like Republicans who have nothing to lose politically are saying it.
And once you have made the excruciating choices to jettison the election, relinquish your base, tone down the rhetoric and embrace the wilderness—the things you should have done eight years ago—once you have made these decisions, the choice to repudiate Trump will be easy and obvious. It will keep you from having to explain your support of him for the rest of your careers. You will forfeit the presidency and with it the Supreme Court. You almost certainly will lose the Senate and will have at best a narrow House majority. Your statewide legislative advantages will be reduced. You will be in the wilderness, where you need to be for now as you regroup and reconsider what it means to be a conservative in the 21st century.
These are painful outcomes. But they will give you something valuable: a genuine chance at renewal.
The country needs you to get it right this time.