Republicans could use the rhetoric of their past presidents to repudiate Donald Trump. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
Matt Finkelstein is the research director and a senior writer at West Wing Writers.

By now, the GOP establishment’s role in fueling Donald Trump’s rise is well established. What is less certain, however, is why Republican presidential candidates and other party leaders, in their futile efforts to bring Trump down, have been so reluctant to make a strong moral case against him.

For instance, when Marco Rubio declared that “the Party of Lincoln and Reagan will not be held by a con artist,” the implication was that fraud — not unrepentant bigotry — is the real affront to Lincoln’s legacy. Even Mitt Romney, who re-entered the political fray for the sole purpose of stopping Trump, rested his argument on the idea that Trump is a “phony” and a fake conservative whose nomination would hand the presidency to “a person so untrustworthy and dishonest as Hillary Clinton.”

But let’s dispel with this fiction that Republican leaders cannot unequivocally repudiate Trump-ism and all it represents. In fact, they already have: Here is a speech that any Republican presidential hopeful could give — assembled (almost) entirely from the words of former Republican presidents. (Ellipses indicate cuts from the original text.)

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My fellow Americans:

[I]t is quite natural for the Republican Party to ask today, “What will happen, not just in the coming election, but even one hundred years from now?” My answer is this: If we and our successors are as courageous and forward-looking…here under the klieg-lights of the [21st] century, as Abraham Lincoln and his associates were in the bonfire-light of the nineteenth, the Republican Party will continue to grow in the confidence and affection of the American people.

I want my [party] to unify our country; to renew the American spirit and sense of purpose. I want to carry our message to every American, regardless of party affiliation, who is a member of this community of shared values.

The stakes are high this year and our choice is crucial. What it all comes down to this:

We are bound in honor to refuse to listen to … the greedy and violent demagogue.

[Because] our nation is harmed when we let our differences separate and divide us.

As recent unfortunate events have demonstrated, we cannot be complacent about racism and bigotry.

For our nation, there is no denying … that racism, despite all the progress, still exists today. For my party, there is no escaping the reality that the party of Lincoln has not always carried the mantle of Lincoln.

The politics of racial hatred and religious bigotry … have no place in this country, and are destructive of the values for which America has always stood. I firmly believe that there is no room for partisanship on this question. Democrats and Republicans alike must be resolute in disassociating ourselves from any group or individual whose political philosophy consists … of racial or religious intolerance, whose arguments are supported … by intimidation or threats of violence.

And I would challenge all of you to pledge yourselves to building an America where incidents of racial hatred do not happen. A good place to start, a tangible contribution each of you can make, is to be totally intolerant of racism anywhere around you. If someone, even a friend, uses an ugly word referring to another’s race or religion, let’s make it clear we won’t put up with it. Racial, ethnic, or religious slurs are vulgar, mean spirited; and there is no place for them in a democratic and free America.

[And] I would like to address a few remarks to those groups who still adhere to senseless racism and religious prejudice, to those individuals who persist in such hateful behavior. I would say to them: “You are the ones who are out of step with our society. You are the ones who willfully violate the meaning of the dream that is America. And this country, because of what it stands for, will not stand for your conduct.”

The issue of immigration [also] stirs intense emotions and in recent weeks, Americans have seen those emotions on display.

Our nation is a nation of immigrants. More than any other country, our strength comes from our own immigrant heritage and our capacity to welcome those from other lands.

We must begin by recognizing the problems with our immigration system. For decades, the United States has not been in complete control of its borders. As a result, many who want to work in our economy have been able to sneak across our border and millions have stayed. These are real problems, yet we must remember that the vast majority of illegal immigrants are decent people who work hard, support their families, practice their faith, and lead responsible lives.

[They] have become productive members of our society and are a basic part of our workforce. They are a part of American life but they are beyond the reach and protection of American law. We are a nation of laws, and we must enforce our laws.

[But] we’re also a nation of immigrants, and we must uphold that tradition, which has strengthened our country in so many ways. These are not contradictory goals. America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time.

We shall continue America’s tradition as a land that welcomes peoples from other countries. We shall also, with other countries, continue to share in the responsibility of welcoming and resettling those who flee oppression.

Our objective is only to establish a reasonable, fair, orderly, and secure system of immigration into this country and not to discriminate in any way against particular nations or people.

I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It’s practiced freely by many millions of Americans and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends.

And it’s important for my fellow Americans to understand that. The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.

America is in trouble today not because her people have failed but because her leaders have failed. And what America needs are leaders to match the greatness of her people.

[T]he ready talker, however great his power, whose speech does not make for courage, sobriety, and right understanding, is simply a noxious element in the body politic. Of one man in especial, beyond any one else, the citizens of a republic should beware, and that is of the man who appeals to them to support him on the ground that he is hostile to other citizens of the republic. In a republic, to be successful we must learn to combine intensity of conviction with a broad tolerance of difference of conviction. Wide differences of opinion in matters of religious, political, and social belief must exist if conscience and intellect alike are not be stunted, if there is to be room for healthy growth. Bitter internecine hatreds, based on such differences, are signs, not of earnestness of belief, but of that fanaticism which, whether religious or antireligious, democratic or antidemocratic, is itself but a manifestation of the gloomy bigotry which has been the chief factor in the downfall of so many, many nations.

In the party of Lincoln, there is no room for intolerance and not even a small corner for … bigotry of any kind. Many people are welcome in our house, but not the bigots.

Our nation must rise above a house divided. Americans share hopes and goals and values far more important than any political disagreements. I know America wants reconciliation and unity. I know Americans want progress. And we must seize this moment and deliver.

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.