It’s no secret that I have been very upset and discouraged by the way this year’s presidential contest has played out. For the last couple of months, I’ve certainly continued to have plenty of thoughts and opinions on the matter that I really wanted to express, but, for whatever reasons, this just didn’t happen for a while. It would be nice if I were returning to writing due to a much-improved electoral landscape, but, alas, this is not the case. Difficult as it might have seemed for this to be possible, I’m actually afraid that prospects for the future have been getting even worse.
Throughout the Republican primary process, I watched in horrified amazement as voters, many of whom have even called themselves conservatives, decided that Donald Trump, a long-time liberal who remained inconsistent, uninformed, and unprincipled, was qualified to be President of the United States. Rejecting an array of vastly superior candidates, enough people cast their ballots for the bullying billionaire to make him the presumptive GOP nominee by early May. As if that outcome, which I’d feared ever since Trump entered the race with sustained high poll numbers last summer, were not bad enough, further disheartening developments have followed his (presumed) securing of the nomination.
Despite the fact that Trump has spent a great deal of time during his campaign insulting, belittling, and attacking members of the GOP, he and his supporters now insist that the party must unify behind him. Disappointingly, not only have more and more Republican voters, officeholders, and commentators gotten on board to support or endorse Trump’s campaign, but attempts have been made to pressure all holdouts to do so, as well. The RNC, the very epitome of the so-called “establishment” that Trump and his followers hate so much and accuse of “rigging” the system against poor Donald, has been working overtime to squelch any opposition to Trump, including by defeating any proposals for changes at last week’s meeting of the convention’s Rules Committee.
For the moment, I can still wish that the GOP delegates will rebel anyway and choose to nominate someone other than Donald Trump at the convention or that something might actually come of the efforts to recruit another independent (hopefully at least somewhat conservative Republican) candidate to challenge the major-party tickets, but it seems highly unlikely that either possibility will come to the rescue. With the Republican convention already upon us, we still face the prospect of a general election this fall with no good options, and I can accept that people will make different decisions about the best way to handle these circumstances.
Personally, I firmly decided last summer that I would never vote for Donald Trump, and I don’t intend to budge from that position, especially as Trump has only gotten worse in many ways over time. I will probably always be upset with those who championed Trump during the primary process and voted to make him the nominee. I cannot comprehend how anyone could have thought that it would be a good choice -- let alone the best option -- to make that man the leader of the free world, and I resent the fact that his fans have taken away our chance to vote for a Republican candidate worth supporting -- and there were many of them in the race this year. Sigh... Still, I am willing to have a little understanding or sympathy for some of those who’ve joined Trump’s bandwagon more recently, even though I find their decisions unfortunate. Elected Republicans who might be troubled by things about Trump probably do feel a strong sense of loyalty to the party that would likely make them very reluctant to oppose its presidential nominee (even one who has never displayed any such attachment to the GOP himself.) More generally, I can see how a reasonable person might recognize the problems with Trump, but come to the conclusion that the alternative, Hillary Clinton as president, is even more unacceptable, and therefore decide to vote for Trump anyway. I don’t think, though, that it is helpful or fair for people to suggest that this is the only possible way to view the situation or that those who see things differently are somehow betraying the party or conservatism. Nor do I believe that declining to cast a ballot for Donald Trump is equal to supporting Hillary Clinton, and this notion should not be used to try to “guilt” people still uncomfortable with Trump into voting for him. (I wouldn’t even say that actually choosing to vote for Mrs. Clinton is unthinkable for a Republican this year, but that’s a different topic for another time.)
As bad as it is to hear politicians I do like and admire (such as Marco Rubio or Paul Ryan) endorsing someone as unworthy of the presidency as Donald Trump and having to offer awkward explanations for their support in light of their previous (and still valid) criticisms of him, recent signs point to an even more disturbing fate for Republicans. I’ve been especially saddened to see that many in the Republican party seem to be moving well beyond giving Trump reluctant support as the “lesser of two evils” whom they hope might be at least a little better than Hillary Clinton in some areas. They are now actually explaining away, excusing, or defending some of the ridiculous or outrageous statements that Trump makes all too often or even adopting some of his positions that are unorthodox for Republicans, to say the least.
Prior to the announcement of his selection as Donald Trump’s running mate, I heard a clip of Governor Mike Pence advocating the election of Trump, whom he described as a “good man” and a “strong leader.” Fortunately for me, I wasn’t eating as I listened, or I would probably have become a choking victim, because I remain completely convinced that Trump is nowhere near either of those things. In the past, Pence was very critical of Trump’s proposed temporary ban on Muslim immigration, but he now says he supports it. I don’t think anyone will be very surprised if most of the other differences of opinion that have existed between the Governor and the reality TV host disappear in the very near future, with Pence migrating to Trump’s point of view -- whatever that might be at any given moment.
Closer to home, I’ve found some of Paul Ryan’s recent comments about Trump particularly disappointing and almost hard to believe. He has criticized Trump in the past, including calling Trump’s comments about the judge hearing the Trump University case textbook examples of racism. Even after Ryan endorsed Trump, he said that he would still offer criticism if necessary, although he hoped he would not have to do so. Lately, it seems that the Speaker may be letting that latter inclination and his belief that the chance to enact positive legislation depends on the election of the Republican (even if in name only) nominee outweigh good judgment, common sense, and plain truth. Following Trump’s speech about the way terrible, destructive trade hurts our country, Ryan, who has been known as a supporter of free trade and various related international agreements, claimed that he and Trump were basically “on the same page” on the topic of trade because they both want “good deals” for America (echoing one of the shallow celebrity’s favorite phrases.) For this to be true, either that page must be awfully large to accommodate both Ryan and Trump, or Ryan has changed his mind pretty dramatically. Even worse, after initially seeming concerned to learn that Trump had (again) said positive things about Saddam Hussein, Ryan later seemed to dismiss the problematic nature of these comments, saying that Trump had put them into the context of discussing toughness against terrorists. What?? There is no proper “context” for Donald Trump’s statements. Although I’m sure Hussein was quick to kill anyone who might have targeted him (along with lots of innocent people), he was no terror-fighter, as he harbored and funded many terrorists. Also, until Trump came along, the notion that we’d be better off with Hussein still in power in Iraq or that we should emulate his methods of dealing with suspects or enemy combatants certainly didn’t seem to be a mainstream opinion.
If I were able to offer my Congressman some advice, I’d strongly suggest that he try very hard to avoid being pulled into the trap of Trumpism. Having decided that a Trump victory is the best outcome he can hope for this year, Speaker Ryan may well be trying to look at the presumptive GOP nominee in the best light and give him the benefit of the doubt wherever possible. This might be a nice thing to do on a personal level, but, if it leads Ryan to try to convince himself or the rest of us of things that just aren’t true (regarding the degree to which Trump shares common ground with traditional Republican politicians or the acceptability of Trump’s controversial statements, for example), it will be counterproductive for the advancement of any of the conservative principles the Speaker has sought to promote. Although he has his strong critics, Paul Ryan seems to be one elected official who is fairly widely seen as a decent, principled person who cares about ideas and good policies. That type of positive reputation isn’t all that common in politics, and I’d hate to see Congressman Ryan damage it in trying to lend some of his credibility to Trump’s election efforts.
Unfortunately, the entire Republican party may suffer harm of that sort as a result of Trump’s victorious attempt to conquer the GOP during this election cycle, especially considering the extent to which he is now being embraced by the party as a whole. Whatever traditions, values, principles, and policies the GOP may have been known for in the past, it is likely that people will now associate it with the brash, reckless, authoritarian attitude and often incoherent proposals of Donald J. Trump, Republican-Come-Lately. This is a very sad result from an election year that initially offered such promise for Republicans and conservatives. I know there are those who would be glad to see the recent incarnation of the GOP go, but the new Trump-centric version is far from an improvement. With these things in mind, it’s difficult to see the Republican convention in Cleveland this week as a celebratory party rather than a wake for the impending demise of the party as we knew it, so maybe the balloons and confetti would be more appropriately replaced with some solemn music and wreaths of condolence.