Can the Republican Party Ask Itself to Step Down?

By now you’ve seen the video that’s sending shockwaves through the Trump campaign and the Republican Party. To hear Donald Trump express his entitled belief that his celebrity status permits him to assault women at will shouldn’t be surprising by now. This is who he is. But that doesn’t make it any less nauseating to watch.

In the immediate aftermath of the tape’s release we witnessed a familiar cycle of condemnation from Republicans trying to walk an impossibly fine line between distancing themselves from the candidate’s words and behavior without distancing themselves from the candidate. These are the same Republicans who have drawn the meaningless distinction between not endorsing Trump and still planning to vote for him, the same Republicans who when repeatedly presented with evidence disqualifying their candidate have refused to abandon him out of fear of the wrath of his supporters. How many times have they said the candidate’s words or actions are unacceptable, but not unacceptable enough to put country over party and call for his defeat?

These acts of cowardice are largely responsible for normalizing the candidate’s behavior and preventing him from being held accountable for a campaign built on a foundation of fraud. Only now, when the political cost of being associated with him may finally be too high do we hear rumblings from party leaders considering what might happen should Trump step down from the ticket. These discussions are motivated by fear. It is now harder than ever to hide from the candidate, but to drop him means defying that plurality of the Republican base which carried him to the nomination and who would leave with him in the unlikely event that he were to abandon the race. This is the Republican dilemma in bold relief, the dilemma of a party that radicalized its voters and can neither live with nor without them.

It is an unsustainable situation and tonight we are one step closer to Republicans having to decide whether to sacrifice an election or their longterm viability.