When Donald Trump sealed the nomination, many Republicans, understandably, expressed concern that he would collapse in the general election and hand the White House to Hillary Clinton on a silver platter. All that is true — and even more likely after a few weeks of Trump’s erratic conduct and organizational incompetence — but what many failed to appreciate is that the damage done to the GOP would be far greater before a single vote was cast. What we are seeing now is the case for disbanding the Republican Party.

One need only to have watched a few minutes of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) struggling to explain how he could support Trump to see that the Republican Party has been intellectually and morally eviscerated in its effort to defend the indefensible:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You said in explaining why you’re standing by your endorsement of Mr. Trump that what matters more to you more than anything are our core principles.
But what core principle is more important to the party of Lincoln and standing up against racism?
RYAN: That’s why I did that, that’s why I spoke out against it.
But this is the party of Lincoln, the party of Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan, so that is why we up and speak against any conversation, any kind of comment that has racist . . .
STEPHANOPOULOS: But this isn’t the first time you’ve had to that when he . . .
RYAN: No, it isn’t the first time.
STEPHANOPOULOS: . . . the KKK. You had to speak out against that.
RYAN: It isn’t the first time I’ve had to do and it won’t be the last time if this continues.
Hopefully, this won’t continue. Hopefully, the campaign will move in a better direction so that it can with be one that we can all be proud of. . . .
STEPHANOPOULOS: Even if the president, then, espouses values that you don’t share?
RYAN: I don’t believe in those values. I don’t know that he believes that in his heart. I don’t know what’s in his heart. But I do think, hope and believe that he’s going to improve the tenor of the campaign, the tone of the campaign, the kind of campaign that he’s going to run.
I believe we need to be inspirational, aspirational and inclusive. And that, to me, is what the . . .
STEPHANOPOULOS: But that’s not the campaign that Donald Trump is running, is it?
RYAN: It’s not. And I hope that it gets there.

For Ryan it’s about core values, but Trump and Ryan don’t agree on core values . . . so why is Ryan supporting him, again? On specifics it is even worse. Ryan doesn’t think Mexico is paying for a wall and says, “We don’t believe we should have a religious test on people coming into the country, we should have a security test. So, we don’t agree on that.” So the Ryan agenda has a better chance of succeeding if Trump wins — but only if Trump does none of the things he’s promised in the campaign?

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In essence, there is no good answer to the key question Stephanopoulos posed: “If you look at the big issues he talks about in every single speech, those are all things you have come out against. How can you say that the things you agree on outweigh the things you disagree on?”

How much better things would look for Ryan and for the future of the GOP if he and others would follow the lead of Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who had this exchange on CBS’s “Face the Nation”:

JOHN DICKERSON: When – you’ve mentioned some of the things Donald Trump would have to do to turn the corner. What gives you some sense given his past practices that he would stick with the new approach if in fact he did what you were hoping he would do?
JEFF FLAKE: I’m not confident at all. I hope that he does. But there’s a worry that he’ll simply go back to the outlandish statements that he feels are to his political advantage. So we have a lot of time between now and November. We haven’t even got to the convention. So I hope that a number of us at least will withhold endorsement — I’ve not endorsed — until we see. It’s not a comfortable position to not support your nominee of the party. None of us want to be in this position. But there are certain things that you can’t do as a candidate. And some of the things he’s done I think are beyond the pale. . . . There’s something called political correctness, and there’s something called correctness. And to say that a judge can’t judge correctly simply because he has Mexican heritage is not correct. So it goes beyond political correctness. Some of these things are simply bad statements. And some of the statements with regard to women are simply boorish. So it goes beyond political correctness.

Two impressions will jell in voters’ minds as the race drags on. First, whatever principles the GOP has aren’t strong enough to override partisan solidarity, even when the essence of our democracy is at stake. Second, Republicans are supporting a bigot and justifying doing so for spurious reasons. Long after the votes are counted, Americans will remember Republicans essentially saying: What he said was bigoted. He says lots of bigoted things. But, by gosh, we’re voting for him.

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Flake hit the nail on the head when he argued that there will be “consequences if we support a nominee who continues to take positions that simply are inconsistent with the party’s position over time. We cannot support somebody who would take us back on some of these issues. We can’t support a candidate, for example, who will do to the Hispanic what has been done to the African American vote for Republicans going forward. We can’t afford to do that as a party. And unless Mr. Trump changes some of his positions, we fear that that’s where we’ll be.”

And the stain of intellectual dishonesty and rank prejudice will not, we believe, be obliterated if Trump loses. To the contrary, if the majority of Americans repudiate him because of his noxious views toward women and minorities, then those Republicans who defended him will find themselves estranged — individually and as a party — from the majority of Americans.

To recover from this debacle and rid themselves of the stench of Trumpism, center-right voters will need to allow the GOP to go the way of the Whigs. Just as slavery spelled the birth of the Republican Party, revulsion against a nativist, divisive and xenophobic bully will likely require its demise. With a sharp break from the past, center-right voters, activists and politicians can then recast their priorities, expand a center-right party’s appeal (which will require it reject Trumpism) and step away from groups and individuals (e.g., evangelical boosters for Trump) whose exclusionary views and hypocritical support for Trump made it impossible for the GOP to become a 21st-century, inclusive party.

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A new party will need to embrace some aspects of the libertarian agenda (support for legal immigration, tolerance of gay marriage, criminal-justice reform) and to modernize a domestic agenda that has grown stale and unresponsive to the needs of too many workers. It will need to connect a robust and rational foreign policy to our continued security and prosperity, rejecting the notion that we can isolate our economy and hide from the world. That means a new center-right party must eschew demonizing groups of Americans, and instead foster shared prosperity and, above all, protect the individual dignity and right of each and every American to reach his or her potential. You see how the party that supported Trump cannot possibly be that party.

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