The party of Lincoln, Republican leaders are keen to remind us—the party of Reagan—does not support Donald Trump’s rhetoric, his misogynistic, race-baiting, and Islamophobic vitriol. Unfolding before our very eyes is a demonstration of dissonance, as Republican leaders like Paul Ryan and Nikki Haley describe a fragment of the Republican Party, one inclusive of immigrants and unafraid of the future, and purport the fragment as representative of the Republican whole. Clearly, their imagined fragment does not make up the majority of their party—as evidenced by Trump’s candidacy—and yet they and other Republican leaders continue to present an electorate that supposedly does not stand for all that Trump represents. No Republican president will endorse Trump. No Republican candidate seeks Trump’s VP nomination. Trump is being treated like a toxic candidate and is, for all intents and purposes, a political pariah, but one who Republican voters have chosen as their mouthpiece, and if necessary, their wrecking ball. With Trump’s candidacy comes the Republican Party’s chance to recreate itself and realign its message, but only if it owns up for the need to do so in the first place.
Killers and Rapists
Re-brandings should be confined to lengthy board meetings between media relations and public affairs teams, not fabricated on live television as the result of ad-lib responses. Republicans are jumping ship and distancing themselves from Trump’s candidacy, while party leaders like Reince Priebus offer languid plans for fitting Donald Trump into the Republican mold. Where is the disconnect? Why is the Republican Party distancing itself from the candidate that its base champions? To put it simply, the Republican Party is in a state of severe denial. They found a lump—excuse me—a Trump, and have yet to schedule a check-up, despite its obvious existence. The Republican Party’s platform of anti-immigration, small government, and conservative values coalesced around Trump’s simple presentation. Mexico’s not sending us their best, Trump observed. Not clear enough? “They’re bringing drugs; they’re killers. They’re rapists.” Anti-immigration? Check. On the military, Trump promises the biggest military and carpet bombs galore; we should kill family members of ISIS combatants, and absolutely not feel bad. Not clear enough? The best defense is a strong offense, and if family members of terrorists aren’t with us, then they’re against us. Where else did we hear such simple logic? Syrian refugees—we don’t know why they’re refugees—in fact, they could be refugees to hurt us, so we shouldn’t let them in. Let the Pope bring them in to the Vatican at his own risk—the fool!
As for small government, which I believe is the party’s biggest appeal, Trump has not said a word. If anything, his views on health care are contradictory, calling for the simultaneous repeal of Obamacare and the establishment of universal coverage. Antonin Scalia, originalist bulwark of Constitutional interpretation, surely must have cringed when Trump argued for the repeal of the 14th Amendment. Not clear enough? It’s not fair that Mexicans are born here. For too long the Republican Party has tried to reconcile too many wholly incompatible parts; Trump simply highlights this fact. The Tea Party arose like a virulent strain that crippled Republicans’ image, as members of this, oh, let’s call it JV, off-shoot branch ended up wreaking way more havoc than anyone thought. Republicans will, for the foreseeable future, be associated with the antics of Tea Party member Ted Cruz as his government shutdown had the word “sequestration” on the evening news, along with images of veterans unable to visit war memorials.
While arguing for the expansion of its base, the Republican Party doesn’t seem to care who its electorate includes, but at the same time presents a message of tolerance and acceptance. Trump’s candidacy confounds the party’s intentions, because it’s like the Republican leadership telling their child that they’ll accept them no matter what, but for the love of God don’t be gay. To put it in more politically relevant terms, it’s like saying race doesn’t matter, but putting a black abolitionist on the twenty-dollar bill panders to African Americans. But race doesn’t matter. To put it another way, it’s like saying insults only exist because of political correctness, while wondering whether Trump’s rhetoric will be toned down in the coming months—or as is more ridiculously contemplated, whether he’ll act more presidential. But if he does it’ll be because of political correctness, apparently, which his supporters don’t like. But language still matters and, again, the Republican Party allows Trump to be himself for the sake of placating his supporters. Though the party knows it shouldn’t because of the many groups he has offended.
And yet, it does.