WASHINGTON, May 8, 2016 – Donald Trump may now be the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party for president, but we are witnessing something unprecedented in our political life. Many of the party’s leaders have announced that they will not support his candidacy.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced that he would not support Trump. He said that Trump lacked the “temperament or strength of character” to serve as president. Bush’s father and brother, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, our two living former Republican presidents, said that they would not endorse Trump.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the nation’s highest ranking Republican official, said he could not support Trump unless and until he changes his tone and demonstrates that he shares the party’s values.
Ryan said that Trump has not shown himself to be “a standard-bearer who bears our standard…This is the party of Lincoln, of Reagan, of Jack Kemp. And we don’t always nominate a Lincoln or a Reagan every four years, but we hope that our nominee aspires to be Lincoln and Reagan-esque.” Ryan declared, “It’s time to go from tapping anger to channeling that anger into solutions. It’s time to set aside bullying, to set aside belittlement and appeal to higher aspirations, appeal to what is good in us. And to lead a country and a party to have a vast majority of Americans enthusiastic about choosing a path.”
Many have rallied around Ryan. Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., said, “I thought it was helpful. I believe that Paul expressed feelings that many of us have. Trump’s attacks on Muslims, the Hispanics, the David Duke fiasco, the abortion exchange with Chris Mathews. Donald Trump has to convince many Americans, including me, that he is ready and able to lead this great country, and at the moment I’m not convinced.”
Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, says of Paul Ryan:
Ryan is a conviction politician. He’s not a Republican first and foremost and only. Ryan is somebody who has a set of convictions and whose philosophical beliefs transcend even the party beliefs, and that’s not true for everybody else.
The list of Republicans rejecting the Trump candidacy is long, and it is growing. Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that he would not attend the convention and that he doesn’t intend “on supporting either of the major-party candidates.”
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts announced that he would not vote for Trump, as did Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., who said Trump was unfit to be commander in chief. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., wrote an open letter pleading with voters to brainstorm on a viable independent candidate Republicans could vote for with a clear conscience.
His letter states, “These two national political parties are enough of a mess that I believe they will come apart. It might not happen fully in 2016—and I’ll continue fighting to revive the GOP with ideas—but when people’s needs aren’t being met, they ultimately find other solutions.”
Conservative journalists and journals are rejecting the Trump candidacy. National Review devoted an entire issue to making the case against Trump, and the Weekly Standard is a staunch opponent of the Trump candidacy. Commentators from George Will to Thomas Sowell have made the conservative case against Trump.
Columnist Charles Krauthammer notes, “Trump has no affinity whatsoever for the central thrust of modern conservatism—a return to less and smaller government…Said Trump last week (after his Indiana primary victory): ‘Folks, I’m a conservative. But, at this point, who cares?’…If Trump is a great big middle finger aimed at a Republican establishment that has abandoned its principles, isn’t it curious that the party has chosen a man without any?…Trump doesn’t even pretend to have any, conservative or otherwise. He lauds his own ‘flexibility,’ his freedom from political or philosophical consistency. And he elevates unpredictability to a foreign policy doctrine.”
Many Republicans are in the process of adopting a “my party right or wrong” approach as they hesitatingly embrace the Trump candidacy. They should think about what agenda they will be advocating for the future. Consider what Trump has been advocating, beyond his nativism and name-calling—-his reckless personal attacks, such as suggesting Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the Kennedy assassination, his leadership in the “birther” movement, calling President Obama’s citizenship into question.
After his Indiana victory, Trump was asked whether the U.S. needed to pay its debts in full or whether he could negotiate a partial repayment, he told CNN: “I would borrow, knowing that if the economy crashed you could make a deal.”
Such a statement by a presidential candidate has no precedent. The U.S. government is able to borrow money at very low interest rates because Treasury securities are regarded as a safe investment, and any cracks in investor confidence have a long history of costing American taxpayers a lot of money.
Thus far in his campaign. Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on imports from China, likely a violation of international trade rules. He has threatened to confiscate money that Mexican immigrants wire home to their families, in order to force the Mexican government to pay for a border wall. Now, he proposes that the government might repay only some of the money it owes to holders of its debt.
Conservative economists note that such threats reflect an economic philosophy that is at odds with the traditional economic belief that markets cannot function properly outside the rule of law.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, who now heads the conservative American Action Forum think tank, says: “Once you’ve ripped up this deal, what happens to the next one? Yeah, Donald Trump might get a good deal one time, but the next president is screwed. It is the worst thing on the global stage to be viewed as an unreliable partner. You don’t want to be the North Korea of economics.”
Trump’s various policy proposals would be a strange amalgam for the Republican Party to adopt. He doubts the value of the NATO alliance. He thinks that the spread of nuclear weapons to U.S. allies such as Japan and South Korea might be a positive development. He advocates the use of torture, which is illegal, and has even called for the killing of innocent family members of U.S. adversaries. He promised to save $300 billion per year by allowing Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies over drug prices—when Medicare’s total annual spending on drugs is $78 billion.
Do Republicans want to embrace a candidate they can’t believe? Remember his strange claim to have seen thousands of Arab Americans in New Jersey celebrating the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11? Or his claim that the government of Mexico was sending rapists and other criminals to the U.S.? He charged that the White House of George W. Bush tried to silence him because he opposed the Iraq War.
And how will Republicans reconcile themselves to his mocking of a disabled reporter, his proposals to ban Muslims from the country and to round up millions of Hispanics?
Donald Trump once called for an “even-handed” U.S. policy with regard to Israel and the Palestinians. Now he urges Israel to continue building settlements in the occupied territories. As a result, he has been endorsed by Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a key supporter of Israel’s right-wing, which opposes a two-state solution.
His Republican opponents once described Trump in graphic terms. Former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal called Trump a “narcissist,” an “egomaniac,” “a carnival act,” who “believes in nothing,” and is “dangerous.”
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry called Trump “a barking carnival act” and a “cancer on conservatism.” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., declared, “Donald Trump is a delusional narcissist and an orange-faced windbag. A speck of dirt is far more qualified to be president.”
Now, Jindal, Perry and Paul, and a host of others, have embraced the Trump candidacy.
It may be a while before they fully comprehend what they are embracing. Trump has pledged, for example, to pay down our $19 trillion debt in eight years, while at the same time cutting taxes by $10 trillion. He has also pledged to protect Social Security.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has estimated that he would have to cut other areas of government by 93 percent to meet his objective.
What does “party loyalty” mean when the party in question appears to stand for nothing more than winning elections and wielding power? If “party loyalty” calls for putting our country in the hands of an individual who has neither the temperament, experience or character to hold such office, is it not asking too much? “Saying my country right or wrong, is like saying my mother drunk or sober,” goes an old saying. It is no wonder that so many Republicans are seriously considering what path to take.
The question of whether a political party should stand for something more than victory is rarely considered. Disraeli lamented in the England of the 19th century that the Conservative Party had abandoned any semblance of principle. In “Coningsby,” he gives counsel to search for something more meaningful: “hold yourself aloof from political parties which from the necessity of things have ceased to have distinctive principles, and are therefore only factions.”
When asked to embrace Donald Trump, Republicans must ask themselves whether his program, his temperament and his character would be good for our country. Fortunately, many are doing just that at the present time. Responsible citizenship demands nothing less.