Donald Trump took his campaign against American democracy to North Carolina on Saturday and offered a rambling, grievance-laden harangue that ought to catalyze Republican leaders to repudiate a man whose lies, bigotry and irrationality are turning their party into a moral sinkhole.

Fat chance, I know. But Republicans should watch Trump’s 90-minute diatribe in its entirety. They might realize that tying their fate to a washed-up demagogue and the extremists he cultivates is not only an affront to decency. It could also be a colossal political mistake.

Most Washington Republicans say they want to “move on” from Trump. But they avoid anything that might offend his delicate sensibilities or those of his supporters.

Sorry, guys, but you won’t be able to “move on” to the responsible governing you purport to believe in until you confront the anti-democratic virus in your party and the vile man spreading the contagion.

And spread it Trump did during his 90-minute soliloquy at the state GOP convention in Greenville, N.C. Almost everything he said drew raucous cheers — except, curiously, his taking full credit for the pandemic-ending vaccines.

Former president Donald Trump spoke June 5 to the North Carolina GOP, deriding Facebook's Mark Zuckerburg, infectious disease expert Anthony S. Fauci and China. (Reuters)

Now, I suspect that a substantial majority of Americans — certainly this one — would prefer to ignore Trump and let him rave into a void.

Alas, there is no void, as his adoring crowd demonstrated Saturday.

They warmed to his staple attacks on “criminal aliens” and “murderers, drug dealers”; his calls for China to pay $10 trillion in global “reparations” for covid-19 damage; all of it peppered with distorted critiques of President Biden’s policies. To cover up his own pandemic failures, he joined his allies’ escalating campaign against Anthony Fauci, whom he called “a hell of a promoter” but also “a radical masker” who had been “wrong on almost every issue.”

Trump’s most energetic moments came in service to two of his favorite causes: the “disgrace” of the 2020 election and defending himself.

One falsehood followed another about “thousands and thousands of people, dead people” casting ballots, dropboxes as tools of fraud in “the most corrupt election in the history of our country” and the supposed manipulation of mail ballots by Democrats.

And referring to the ongoing investigations of his business activities, Trump denounced New York’s “radical-left prosecutors” and their “crusade to inflict pain on me.”

You might dismiss it all as a nostalgic road show but for this: Polls show that most Republicans believe Trump’s preposterous election claims. Republican politicians in at least 14 states have deployed Trump’s fantasies as excuses to pass voter-suppression measures, some of which read as if they were translated directly from the Russian or the Hungarian. Imitating the efforts of strongmen abroad to undercut free electoral competition, some of these laws empower partisan bodies to set aside honest ballot counts.

And while Washington Republicans coddle Trump or fall silent, many in their party embrace the lunatic fringe.

Take the bizarre QAnon conspiracy. Pollsters at PRRI recently asked Americans if they agreed or disagreed that “the government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.”

An astonishing 23 percent of Republicans agreed, and 28 percent of Republicans agreed that “because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”

How far do things have to go before GOP leaders join a brave few in their party in insisting that enough is enough? We’ve already had a violent assault on the Capitol, yet only 35 GOP House members and six senators were willing to support a bipartisan investigation into the events of Jan. 6. Silence or, at best, mumbled words of dissent leave the conspiracists, the advocates of violence and the believers in Trump’s nonsense unchallenged.

The GOP figures that staying close to Trump will rally his supporters to the polls in 2022. But Republican pollster Whit Ayres cites the 2017 governor’s race in Virginia as a cautionary tale: Turnout went up in pro-Trump rural counties but “went up far more in anti-Trump suburban and metropolitan counties,” leading to the defeat of Republican Ed Gillespie by Democrat Ralph Northam.

Yes, outside of presidential-election years, embracing Trump may energize his opponents far more than his supporters. This was a factor in New Mexico Democrat Melanie Stansbury’s landslide victory in a special election for a U.S. House seat last week.

As Rep. Sean Maloney (N.Y.), chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told me, “I don’t think there’s any evidence that they can do Trump toxicity and get Trump turnout without Trump on the ballot.”

Republicans ought to stand up to Trump on behalf of their own dignity, and for democracy itself. Failing that, enlightened self-interest suggests that taking on bullies is a task that cannot be postponed forever.

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