Donald Trump began May 3, 2016, as he often begins the day, by calling into "Fox and Friends." This time, he called to complain that Rafael Cruz, the father of Ted, had been involved in the conspiracy to assassinate John F. Kennedy, yet so far only the National Enquirer was willing to cover the amazing story. This Trump thought a total outrage.
By the end of that day, Trump was standing on a stage in Indiana, reveling in his great victory and lauding that very same Ted Cruz as a very smart, very tough fighter with a beautiful wife and family and a great future.
No harm, no foul. Right, "Lyin' Ted"?
We have no record as of yet of how Cruz responded to the olive branch. We do know that just a few hours earlier, he had publicly blasted Trump as "utterly amoral," a "pathological liar," "a narcissist at a level I don't think this country has ever seen," "a bully," and "a serial philanderer."
Trump is indeed all those things. But as of yesterday, he is also the Republican Party's nominee to be president of the United States. Cruz suspended his campaign last night, and the final holdout, Ohio Gov. John Kasich will reportedly do the same this afternoon. That puts Cruz, Kasich and millions of other loyal Republicans in quite a nasty conundrum. Does a man who last week was utterly unfit to be president suddenly transform into a statesman by winning the nomination?
It can't be easy. For weeks now, I've been getting a steady stream of emails from people trying to come to grips with it. They begin in more or less the same fashion:
“I’m a longtime Republican, but ….”
“I’ve always thought of myself as a Republican, but ….”
“I’ve voted for every Republican candidate since Jerry Ford, but ….”
And the “but” is Donald Trump. The sense of betrayal and confusion among these voters is palpable. The Grand Old Party has long been their political home; it has been part of who they are, and they have been proud of it. Now, they look on in befuddlement, unable to even recognize what it has become or to see a place for themselves within it.
But if a lot of anti-Trump Republicans are at a loss at what to do next, the choice is easy for the party's grifters and opportunists. They are perhaps exemplified by our own Newt Gingrich, who has been sniffing around his party's new alpha dog for months now, marveling at the excellent aroma. He has lauded Trump’s intellect, leadership and genius and has let it be known that if asked, he would be duty-bound to consider a request to serve as Trump’s running mate.
“If a potential president says ‘I need you’, it would be very hard for a patriotic citizen to say no,” says the ever-patriotic Gingrich, inhaling deeply. And apparently the prospect of a Trump/Gingrich ticket is being taken seriously in top conservative circles.
However, for those not blinded by personal ambition and the desire to insinuate themselves to power, the questions are more complicated.
Does party loyalty require them to support a candidate who has ostentatiously rejected much of the GOP’s platform, who has made a mockery of the party’s longtime self-image as a defender of traditional values? Do they actually embrace Trump, a man they loathe? As Americans concerned about their country, do they believe that President Hillary Clinton constitutes more of a risk to their children's future than President Donald Trump? Are they willing to put the nuclear football within easy reach of a man who thinks the nuclear triad sounds like a kinky sex opportunity?
In my own informal polling, most Republicans distressed at the thought of Trump also say they can’t envision voting for Clinton. I get that. But in a controversial column this week, George Will raised the stakes considerably higher. He urged conservatives to launch a political Operation Dunkirk, with an all-out effort to rescue as many downticket Republicans as possible from the coming electoral disaster. But he also urged responsible Republicans to launch a companion effort to do everything they can to ensure that Trump loses all 50 states.
Apparently, Will believes that only a complete and total rejection by the voters would allow the Republican Party to conduct a post-election purge, ridding itself of all vestiges of Trump, including the “quislings” and “collaborators” now gathering in Trump’s wake to kiss his ring.
It’s important to remind both Democrats and Republicans that even a resounding GOP defeat this fall would only be temporary, as all political victories must be. Even if the Republican Party as we have known it does not survive, another will rise to take its place and resume the debate. America will always have a party devoted to defending conservative ideals, but it needs to be a party that is capable of governing and of competing on the basis of policy and fact rather than resentment, anger and delusion.
We haven’t seen such a party in a while. Donald Trump, peddler of bizarre conspiracy theories, cannot create such a party.