Republican leaders, having fallen in behind Donald Trump, may hope that they can move beyond daily questions about their presumptive nominee. In fact, their endorsements should guarantee that the questions have only begun.
Speaker Ryan, you have decided to support Trump because you believe he will support your legislative agenda. Do you also agree that anyone with a Hispanic surname should be disqualified from presiding over any cases having to do with the nominee or his businesses?
Think back eight years to the firestorm ignited by revelations that Barack Obama’s pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, had said in a sermon, “God damn America.” Obama, then an Illinois senator running for president, was hounded by reporters to repudiate the comment.
Today, it is the candidate who is making the incendiary comments. Don’t voters in Ohio, Arizona and elsewhere have a right to know whether their leaders agree or disagree with the views of the man they have endorsed?
Senator McCain, you say you back Trump because it would be “foolish to ignore” the voters who have propelled him to the nomination. Do you also agree with the suggestion, which he recently retweeted, that Hillary Clinton is “the one who killed 4 Americans in Benghazi”?
What purpose would such questioning serve, beyond tormenting people who, it might be argued, richly deserve to be tormented?
No comment from a Republican politician is likely to chasten Trump or modify his behavior in the campaign, far less if he is elected. Indeed, one of the saddest aspects of the GOP self-abnegation parade is the politicians’ delusion that a caution from them for Trump to “act more presidential” will have any impact. He got this far without them; their misgivings will not trouble him, now or later.
The questions matter, but not because they will shape Trump’s behavior. His campaign is founded on an assault on the norms of democracy: judicial independence, a free press, a republic that judges every individual for his or her worth and not by religion or ethnicity or gender or disability.
Even if he loses, that assault could do grave and lasting damage — particularly if U.S. citizens and foreigners come to believe that other U.S. leaders see nothing objectionable or out of the ordinary in Trump’s views.
Senator McConnell, you have endorsed Trump because Clinton would represent a “third term” for Obama. If a President Trump seeks funds to round up and deport 11 million undocumented immigrants in a mass version of the “Operation Wetback” that he admires, would you support the appropriation?
Democrats will repudiate Trump’s hate speech, but their objections will be dismissed as predictable campaign give-and-take. It is only Republicans who still have an opportunity to salvage some standards — to say that, no matter their rationale for endorsing, they understand that some behavior and some rhetoric are still beyond the pale.
Chairman Priebus, you were one of the first and most enthusiastic riders on the Trump bandwagon. Tell us, please: Do you agree that the government of Mexico deliberately sends rapists across the U.S. border?
The media should not be satisfied with a generic response that an endorsement does not imply 100 percent agreement.
As ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Sunday pressed Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) for his views on Trump’s wall, Trump’s racist attack on a judge and other positions, the chairman of the foreign relations committee looked increasingly miserable. “I thought this interview was going to be more about the foreign policy arena,” he complained.
Sorry, Senator: If you’ve endorsed Trump, reporters are absolutely right to ask you, and other Republican leaders, which beliefs you share and which you reject.
Senator Portman, you have praised your party’s nominee for bringing new voters into the fold. Do you agree with him that vaccines cause autism?
Senator Paul, do you think that U.S. armed forces should be ordered to kill the innocent relatives of suspected terrorists overseas?
Senator Rubio, do you still believe that Trump is a “con man”?
A day after endorsing Trump, Ryan said that he disapproved of the nominee’s criticism of a judge for his Mexican heritage. Oddly, since Trump’s dismissal of the Indiana-born judge as a “Mexican” came well before Ryan’s endorsement, the speaker acted as if it was a surprise — “out of left field,” he said.
“He clearly says and does things I don’t agree with,” Ryan said. “And I’ve had to speak up on time to time when that has occurred, and I’ll continue to do that if that’s necessary. I hope it’s not.”
If Ryan and other Republican leaders do in fact speak up when it is “necessary,” they could yet perform some service to their party and their nation. They might also salvage a sliver of dignity and self-respect.
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