Politics & Policy

Trump’s Backtrackers: Republican Politicians Go Wobbly

Former Texas governor Rick Perry (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

RICK PERRY, JULY 22, 2015: “Let no one be mistaken — Donald Trump’s candidacy is a cancer on conservatism, and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised, and discarded. . . . I, for one, will not be silent when a candidate for the high office of president runs under the Republican banner by targeting millions of Hispanics, and our veterans, with mean-spirited vitriol. I will not go quiet when this cancer on conservatism threatens to metastasize into a movement of mean-spirited politics that will send the Republican party to the same place it sent the Whig Party in 1854: the graveyard.”

Rick Perry, May 5, 2016: “He is not a perfect man. But what I do believe is he loves his country and he will surround himself with capable, experienced people and he will listen to them. . . . I believe in the process, and the process has said Donald Trump will be our nominee and I’m going to support him and help him and do what I can.”

I don’t mean to pick on Rick Perry, a good man and the excellent former governor of Texas. I could have started with Bobby Jindal . . . or Nikki Haley . . . or Scott Walker . . . or — but you get the idea.

The last week has brought a steady stream of announcements that once stalwart Republican opponents of Donald Trump’s candidacy are caving, falling in line, and accepting Trump’s ascent to the nomination of the Republican party.

But why? What possible purpose does this serve?

First, pure short-term political calculation would warrant tapping the breaks on a Trump endorsement. A third-party or independent candidate could emerge in the next few weeks. (Or maybe not.) Trump could do or say something truly disqualifying — I’m not holding my breath, but this is possible. (Or maybe not.) Trump could be floundering so badly in the polls by mid July — Trump is down six and a half points against Hillary Clinton in the RealClearPolitics average as of today — that the goose is cooked and no plausible political advantage could be gained by an endorsement. (Or maybe he’ll be neck and neck with Hillary by then.) Hillary could get indicted, leaving Trump — if no third-party alternative emerges — alone on the field. (Or maybe she won’t be.)

The point is no Republican politician needs to make a decision now — unless, that is, they’re angling for the chance to be Trump’s running mate. The facts on the ground can change between early May and late July. If you’re an out-of-office Republican like Perry or Jindal, a Republican not up for reelection like Scott Walker or Greg Abbott, or even a Republican on the ballot this November like Mike Pence or Kelly Ayotte: What’s the rush?

RELATED: The GOP’s Ideological Earthquake and the Aftermath

Why not at least give it a few days or weeks? Why not see where we stand when the dust settles? Why not see if there are better alternatives out there in a month?

Second, any Republican looking farther down the road than this November’s general election should think hard about how they want to be remembered.

Why not see where we stand when the dust settles? Why not see if there are better alternatives out there in a month?

Not every office holder need be as forward or courageous as Nebraska senator Ben Sasse — easily the most prominent #NeverTrump elected Republican official. (And to be fair, Sasse won’t be up for reelection for four more years, when the political landscape is sure to be very different.) But if things go south and Trump continues to embarrass and alienate middle-of-the-road Republicans, social conservatives, and Americans at large, do these Republican officeholders really want to be remembered as having jumped on the Trump Train so soon?

Third, when the last vote is counted, more than half of Republican primary voters are likely to have voted for someone other than Donald Trump. That is, more than half of the most engaged and committed party regulars will have voted to reject the man who successfully executed a hostile takeover of the GOP in the face of an inept, divided, fractured, and feckless opposition. Yes, Donald Trump is almost certainly going to be the Republican nominee in 2016 — but that still does not mean that Trump will be the consensus choice of a large majority of Republicans. Whose side do you want to be on? Where is the safest ground? With the 40 to 45 percent of Republicans who are committed Trump supporters? Or the 55 to 60 percent of the skeptics? Put another way, do you want to stand with the discredited and fading old guard of the GOP — the John Boehners, the Mitch McConnells, the Newt Gingrichs, the Chris Christies of the party, who will likely never win another elected office — or a rising new generation of conservatives — Ben Sasse, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Mike Lee — whose future is in front of them?

#share#Finally: When in doubt, do the right thing. Life is too short to sell out your principles. Life is too short to not fight the good fight — even if you know defeat is likely. An endorsement of Donald Trump should shake you to your core. One electoral defeat or electoral victory is not worth the abandonment of your principles. If you really believed Donald Trump was bad for America before Tuesday, what’s changed?

RELATED: What Now, Conservatives?

Back in September, Nikki Haley said of Trump: “Every time someone criticizes him, he goes and makes a political attack back. That’s not who we are as Republicans. That’s not what we do.”

Now she says, “I have great respect for the will of the people, and as I have always said, I will support the Republican nominee for president.”

Last fall, Bobby Jindal said: “Donald Trump is dangerous. . . . The real danger is that, ironically, Donald Trump could destroy America’s chance to be great again.”

Now, he says he’ll support Trump.

#related#Scott Walker, when dropping out of the race last September, called for other “Republican presidential candidates to consider doing the same so that the voters can focus on a limited number of candidates who can offer a positive, conservative alternative to the current front-runner. . . . This is fundamentally important to the future of our party, and, more important, the future of the country.”

Now, he says he’ll support the presumptive Republican nominee.

Instead, they could have spoken for millions of conservatives, and followed the lead of House speaker Paul Ryan: I cannot support Donald Trump. At least not now. At least not yet.

Republicans, don’t be former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore. Don’t be the guy who falls to this level:

Jim Gilmore: ‘What a nightmare, what a nightmare.

The Atlantic’s Molly Ball: Are you going to vote for him?’

Gilmore: Sure.’

We can do better America.

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