The Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan took the extraordinary step of publicly upbraiding one of his party’s candidates on Tuesday. Referring to Donald Trump’s hesitation in condemning white supremacist groups that support him, Ryan said, “If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party, there can be no evasion and no games. They must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry. This party does not prey on people’s prejudices.”
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Ryan made clear, however, that he would support the Republican nominee, whoever it was. He would not go as far as Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, who is already on record as saying not only that he would not vote for Trump but that if Trump is the GOP’s candidate, “conservatives will have to find a third option.” And Ryan presumably would not buy into the claim that a Trump candidacy would ruin the Republican Party or that a Trump presidency could endanger the world.
Yet this is the kind of apocalyptic rhetoric that seems to be engulfing Republican lawmakers in off-the-record laments, and many of the right wing’s most prominent spokespersons in articles and television appearances. Among the latter, some of the most anguished cries come from writers who have been the most strident critics of Barack Obama – and also the most ardent backers of Benjamin Netanyahu.
Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal columnist, former Jerusalem Post editor and one of the most popular speakers on the American Jewish lecture circuit, pulled no punches Tuesday. “The candidacy of Donald Trump is the open sewer of American conservatism. This Super Tuesday, polls show a plurality of GOP voters intend to dive right into it, like the boy in the “Slumdog Millionaire” toilet scene. And they’re not even holding their noses.”
Not hesitating to draw once unthinkable historical comparisons, Stephens writes: “What too many of Mr. Trump’s supporters want is an American strongman, a president who will make the proverbial trains run on time.” A Trump presidency, he added, “would mark the collapse of the entire architecture of the U.S.-led post-World War II global order. We’d be back to the 1930’s, with an America Firster firmly in charge.”
Stephens is repelled by what he views as Trump’s isolationism, though resistance to his candidacy, which is growing along with Trump’s electoral lead, encompasses a wide range of issues, including his racist rhetoric, his liberal past and present and his on again, off again support for Israel. “My party is going batshit crazy,” as Senator Lindsey Graham remarked about Trump’s success.
Some writers seem to be simply offended by the success of an uncouth demagogue in bewitching Republican voters and thus vindicating “the left’s ugly indictment” of the right, Stephens notes. The same sentiment is echoed by another well-known right winger, often identified as a neoconservative, Max Boot:
“If voters nominate him, they will confirm everything bad that Democrats have ever said about the GOP. A Trump nomination will splinter the party, sully its good name — and increase the risk that a dangerous demagogue will assume the most powerful position in the world,” Boot writes.
Perhaps the most damning condemnation of Trump and of the Republican Party that spawned him came from Robert Kagan, one of the founders of the neoconservative movement. “Trump is the GOP’s Frankenstein Monster. Now he’s strong enough to destroy the party.” Kagan blamed the spreading Trump “plague” on the party’s obstructionism, tolerance for bigotry and “the Obama hatred, a racially tinged derangement syndrome that made any charge plausible and any opposition justified.” The only way to stop it, he notes, is to vote for Hillary Clinton.
Other well-known pro-Israel conservative stalwarts, such as Commentary’s John Podhoretz and the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol, aren’t willing to go that far: The former has nonetheless said that a Trump presidency would be “a disaster” for the U.S., and the latter has called for a third party to be set up if Trump cannot be stopped. Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel, once linked to Sheldon Adelson, is also distributing a video about Trump’s “Love for Dictators.”
And while resistance to Trump’s surging popularity is far from limited to Israel’s supporters, it has wreaked the most havoc among Netanyahu’s greatest core of support, the evangelicals. Their outcry against the large number of their brethren who are flocking to Trump, however, does not stem from his statement that he might be “neutral” in seeking Mideast peace or his refusal to commit to a united Jerusalem. Rather it is the sinful nature of his ways.
As Peter Wehner, who served in three Republican administrations, wrote in the New York Times on Tuesday, Trump “humiliated his first wife by conducting a very public affair, chronically bullies and demeans people ... His name is emblazoned on a casino that features a strip club, he has discussed anal sex on the air with Howard Stern and, after complimenting his daughter Ivanka’s figure, pointed out that if she ‘weren’t my daughter, perhaps I would be dating her.’”
And the popular website Christian Post, aghast at Trump’s growing popularity among evangelicals, published a presidential endorsement for the first time in its history, only it was anything but. “Trump is a misogynist and philanderer. He demeans women and minorities. His preferred forms of communication are insults, obscenities and untruths,” an editorial noted. “This is a critical time in American history and we call on all Christians to pray for personal repentance, divine forgiveness and spiritual awakening for our nation. It is not the time for Donald Trump.”