Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Republicans of good will such as Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a large chunk of conservative media and outside groups such as the Our Principles PAC gradually have built support for the argument that Donald Trump is unfit to serve as president. “No longer is Donald Trump a trifle, a fillip, an entertainment, the personification of the liberal caricature of Republicans, easy to mock, easier to dismiss, a phenomenon at which to awe, an avenger of the people who has the right enemies,” writes Matthew Continetti. “He’s a threat to American democracy. And he must be stopped.” To the credit of all the #NeverTrump forces, more Americans are coming to that conclusion every day.

Then along comes the quintessential bureaucratic man, loyal to an entity but lacking moral discernment. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus made a spectacle of himself courting Trump — with pledge in hand as he came for an audience with the Donald at Trump Tower. Since then Priebus has been treating Trump as just another candidate and deriding the #NeverTrump forces (which actually includes 60 to 65 percent of the party voting against Trump).

Before the last debate, he exhorted the crowd, “We are going to support the nominee of our party, whoever it is, 100 percent.” Then adopting the Trumpkin line, he insisted that any of the GOP candidates would be “a world better than Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.” Actually not. A candidate who incites violence, vows to commit war crimes, doesn’t know that we shouldn’t give Japan or South Korea the bomb (or set one off in Europe), and demeans women and people with disabilities is the worst possible choice for the country and the GOP.

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Priebus thinks that his charter demands slavish support for all candidates, tolerance of the intolerable. He was at it again yesterday. He proclaimed, “So the candidates, I think, are going to posture a little bit as far as what they’re willing to do and who they’re willing to support, who they’re not.” He continued, “What candidates are now portraying out for the public to listen to is, you know, I think a bit of posturing. I’m not really worried about in regards to supporting the eventual nominee or the party.” He would have us believe that he knows the candidates better than the candidates themselves. The arrogance and moral vapidity are stunning.

Priebus is now reduced to denigrating certain candidates, calling them in essence liars for asserting their moral aversion to Trump. Swell. (One hopes the campaign chiefs for Cruz and Kasich are on the phone telling Priebus to stay off TV.)

Priebus would argue that he is just doing his job, trying to keep the party together. He has it wrong: If Trump is the nominee, the party dissolves and Priebus will be presiding over a shell, a rickety remnant of the formerly Grand Old Party. He, moreover, is missing the critical element here: Trump would find it nearly impossible to run as a third candidate; the most he can do is leave in a huff, which no pledge can prevent. Priebus is protecting Trump for no good reason when he should be protecting the soul of his party.

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In the meantime, he is trashing his own post-2012 “autopsy” report, which dedicated the party to tolerance, inclusion and minority outreach. In protecting a candidate who did not instinctively condemn the KKK and David Duke, Priebus makes a mockery of efforts to expand the party’s appeal. (A number of high-level African Americans have already left the RNC.)

It would be bad enough if Priebus had merely been afraid to speak up when Trump denigrated women and minorities, confirming the image of the party as a bunch of narrow-minded bigots, and when Trump’s campaign manager was caught on tape assaulting a female reporter. Spinelessness would have been regrettable but unextraordinary for a party operative. No, he has done worse than that. He has cast Trump as just another qualified candidate, offering his party to a thug who would turn it into an organization dedicated to his cult of personality and authoritarian mind-set. Furthermore, he has done incalculable damage to the work of shedding the GOP’s image as the old white man’s party.

Priebus does not seem to be a bad man. He is a foolish one, however, injuring the party and the cause of conservatism at the time it could use, if not moral leadership, then at least the discretion to know when to shut his trap.

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