As noted in Blog 74, Part II, we are about to depart on vacation with plans to return in August, Before leaving, however, we wanted to say a word about Donald Trump.
We like to think that we take a realistic view of the world but we have to admit that we have been in denial on the subject of Donald Trump. We have not mentioned his candidacy in the naïve hope that it would disappear on its own. It is now clear that is not going to happen. We still believe that it is highly unlikely that Trump will become the Republican nominee, but there is an increasingly serious question as to how much embarrassment and damage he will do to the Republican Party along the way. Our answer is, too much.
We are not alone in having attempted to ignore the Trump candidacy but are now appreciating its danger. As The Wall Street Journal wrote:
We had vowed not to write about Donald Trump, but Democrats and the media are so eager to use the political apprentice to define conservatism that we can’t avoid it. He won’t win a GOP caucus or primary, but he is notable as a Democratic weapon against Republicans.
The focus of the editorial was Hillary Clinton’s efforts, just beginning, to identify the Republican Party with Trump. But who can blame Secretary Clinton for seeking to pluck such low-hanging fruit.
Lengthy articles in The Washington Post (“GOP leaders fear damage to party’s image as Donald Trump doubles down”) and The New York Times (“Can’t Fire Him: Republican Party Frets Over What to Do With Trump”) have explored the problem in some depth. Matters were brought to a boil by Trump’s nasty comments about Mexican immigrants, but more outrageous pronouncements on that and other subjects will follow as surely as day the night.
If any further focus were required, it will be provided by the initial Republican debate in August. As Peggy Noonan observed:
Mr. Trump’s loquacity will be a challenge in the debates. How will anyone get a word in edgewise? Candidates will rely on the moderator. The moderator may amuse himself by stepping back and watching the fun. None of the candidates will want to take Mr. Trump head-on because he doesn’t play within the margins of traditional political comportment. He’s a squid: poke him and get ink all over you.
He has the power of the man with nothing to lose. If he won he’d be president. If he loses he’s Donald Trump, only a little more famous. His next show will get even higher ratings.
Ms. Noonan may, if anything, understate the gravity of the situation. The August debate could be a defining moment in the 2016 race before it has truly begun. And it could be a definition that the Party cannot survive in that election.
It is clear that other Republican candidates and “leaders” have, as our British friends would put it, their knickers in a twist about what to do. That is unnecessary. The answer is obvious, not easy perhaps, but obvious: every other Republican candidate should decline to appear on a debate stage with Trump. Acting individually, they would fear alienating Trump supporters, but acting collectively they should be able to summon the courage to do the right thing. One or two, say Senator Cruz, might insist on showing up, but we could live with that.
Some have expressed a worry that if rejected decisively by Republicans, Trump might attempt to run as third-party candidate, but we believe that is a small risk and one well worth taking. It is also possible that, even without a third-party candidacy, some portion of the Republican base attracted to Trump might decide to “stay home.” Nevertheless, we suspect that for every such vote that is thereby lost, two or more would be gained from voters impressed by the Party’s surprising ability to take a difficult but principled stand.