Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

No, Republicans, you can't blame Trump on the Clintons


"There's an old saying that victory has 100 fathers and defeat is an orphan," John F. Kennedy ruefully noted in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs invasion, a disaster that he was forced to adopt as his administration's own. The same is proving true of the looming Trump disaster, with Republican leaders and media figures already rushing to blame somebody else, anybody else, for the historic defeat that appears to be coming their way.

Those who have backed Trump insist that the blame must lie with those in the party who have refused to rally behind the nominee. They label the #NeverTrump crowd as traitors, as summer soldiers, as establishment elitists who lent aid and comfort to the enemy and who must be held responsible for installing Hillary Clinton in the White House, for ensuring a more liberal Supreme Court and perhaps a whole lot more.

Conversely, those conservatives and Republicans who have kept their distance from Trump look at what's happening now across the country --- Georgia in play, Arizona perhaps lost, Clinton within three in Texas of all places -- and claim that this is exactly the scenario that they warned against. They argue that this outcome was inevitable the moment that Republicans made a man like Trump their nominee.

Personally, I think the second group has by far the better argument. The party tried to warn itself in its post-2012 autopsy that a new direction was needed, but instead it chose to double-down on an already doomed strategy, with predictable results. More importantly, though, no degree of Republican unanimity could have changed Trump's essential character, and that character is what has doomed him and the party.

The other day, for example, Newt Gingrich tried to claim the existence of a big Trump and a little Trump, concluding that "frankly, the little Trump is pathetic," but most Americans have now concluded that the little Trump is all there is, and yes, he is pathetic.

And then of course there's always the GOP's favorite whipping boy, the media. The #NeverTrumpers have  already begun to blame the media for creating Trump, turning him into such a ratings-driven phenomenon that the party could not properly defend itself against him.  There's probably some truth to that, but as an excuse I don't think it gets you far. Again, Trump's essential nature has been clear from the beginning.  From birtherism to "Mexicans as rapists" to "Ted Cruz's daddy helped kill JFK" to "bleeding from ... wherever," all of the essential Trump was already clear to see way back in the primaries. Everything that has happened since has been confirmation, not revelation.

Conversely, the Trump crowd blames the media for destroying his candidacy with coverage that is so unfair and biased that it basically amounts to rigging the campaign against him. I have no patience at all with that argument: If you knowingly choose to nominate an utterly amoral, intellectually lazy con man whose sole concern is his own ego and who plays to the worst instincts of his supporters, then it's not unfair for the media to depict him as an utterly amoral, intellectually lazy con man whose sole concern is his own ego and who plays to the worst instincts of his supporters.

That is accurate reporting.

The real question that both factions of the Republican Party have to address but want to avoid is why. Why Trump? Why was it so easy for such a charlatan to seize the entire party infrastructure? What made their base such fertile soil for such a noxious crop? What rendered party leadership so helpless against a disaster that many were smart enough to foresee? Those questions -- or rather their answers -- cut to the core identity of the party, so few are willing to confront it.

The avoidance instinct is so strong that #NeverTrumper Erick Erickson, writing at Resurgent.com, even resurrrects the claim that the Trump disaster is the result of a secret plot to destroy the GOP, hatched between Trump and those devious Clintons.

"Trump decided to get into the Republican race, build up an online army of trolls to make it look like he had massive support, then intentionally sabotage the race to hand it to his friend Hillary Clinton," Erickson theorizes, apparently sincerely. "... That also explains why Ivanka Trump and Chelsea Clinton remain very close friends. This was all part of the plan and Trump took advantage of angry voters looking for change."

In one sense, that's ludicrous. In another, it gets us closer to at least part of the answer. A party that turns so often and so readily to conspiracy theories to avoid hard truths simply had no natural defenses left when a charlatan like Trump came calling. And that's on the party as a whole, not on any one faction of it.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.