The other day I spied a high Republican official walking on the street and called out his name. He stopped, hit his smile app and exclaimed how glad he was to see me. “What are you going to do about Trump?” I asked. He paused and then uttered the dreaded word: unity. “We have to have unity,” he said. I got his message. He’s selling out.
In the coming weeks, Republicans everywhere will be seeking unity by embracing a front-runner. If that person is Donald Trump, they will be ignoring his utter lack of qualifications for the presidency, his harebrained schemes for controlling migration, his knack for insulting billions people at a time (Muslims, women, the disabled), his gaudy womanizing past, his lying, his exaggerating, his enthusiasm for torture and his ingenious view of the Constitution as a lease that can be broken.
That paragraph, politically lethal if I were writing about someone else, encapsulates precisely why Trump is so hard to stop. He is, among other things, scandal-proof. At the moment, an army of journalists is scouring the land looking for whatever Trump has done that we might not yet know about. Trouble is, there is little that can be revealed. Call him a womanizer, and he shrugs. Say he lies, and he lies by saying he doesn’t. Confront him with the truth and, as he did by insisting on Muslim revelry in New Jersey following the Sept. 11 attacks, and he just perseveres. He cannot be shamed.
It’s trite to liken Trump to a Kardashian, but I shall do so anyway. What they have in common is the determination to outlast our moral or political revulsion. Kim Kardashian hit the big time with a sex tape. Revolting? Yes. But forgotten? Mostly. What lingers is the name.
It is similar with Trump. The shock of his statements — calling Mexican immigrants “rapists,” for instance — has worn off. The same with his insult to Megyn Kelly or his mocking of a disabled New York Times reporter. All that is now “old news,” blanched of its repellent ugliness by time: Oh, that’s just Trump. He’ll say anything. He doesn’t mean it.
Bit by bit, Trump will accumulate more endorsements. The motley crew that now surrounds him will be supplemented and upgraded by establishment names. They will use the same reasoning that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) did last month when he endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), whom he hates — a higher purpose. In Graham’s case, it was to stop Trump. With others, it will be this thing called party unity or, its functional equivalent, stopping Hillary Clinton.
But what is the point of a party that attempts to unify around a candidate such as Donald Trump? What then does the party stand for? Does the GOP endorse anti-Muslim bigotry? Shall the party have a plank about Mexican rapists or the physical attributes of women? If Trump is its nominee, will the party endorse what are certain to be misogynist and personal attacks on Clinton? (Trump’s campaign boasts he has the endorsement of Paula Jones and Juanita Broaddrick, both associated with Bill Clinton’s sexual rap sheet. This could get ugly.)
Trump’s message, we are incessantly told, is that the GOP has double-crossed its constituency with trade, immigration and just about anything else you can name. But it will do the Republican Party no good to win back the aggrieved at the cost of everyone else — not to mention what is good for the country.
A glance at Trump’s endorsees — check his Web page — is an effective appetite suppressant. Imagine a Republican National Convention’s dais stocked with some of the people who have already endorsed Trump — not just the feckless Chris Christie or the bizarre Sarah Palin, but such figures as the disgraced football player Richie Incognito, Hulk Hogan and Teresa Giudice, from “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” a fresh alumna of the federal prison system. A meeting of Trump supporters might have to be sanctioned by a pro wrestling promoter.
When I spotted that Republican official, I did not say what I initially wanted to. I wanted to say that we are taking names — “we” being the American people. We will remember who endorsed a man who took American politics lower than it has ever been, no doubt extracting promises of good behavior that later will be broken. Party unity will not wash. The GOP is going to lose, the only question is how — with some honor, or craven and deservedly mocked by history.
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