WASHINGTON – Republicans can’t have it both ways: If you say you intend to cast your ballot for Donald Trump, that’s an endorsement. You can be for him or against him, but not both.
So don’t even try to take the untenable position that Rep. Bill Flores of Texas, chairman of the influential Republican Study Committee, tried to outline. “I will vote for him,” Flores said, “but in terms of getting my endorsement, I don’t endorse people that bash a judge based on his ethnic heritage.”
You just did, Congressman.
Equally absurd, and even more cynical, is what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is doing: encouraging Trump to pretend to be something he is not. “Using a prepared text last night and not attacking any other Americans was a good start,” McConnell said, referring to Trump’s teleprompter-assisted speech Tuesday evening. “I think it’s still time for him to act like a presidential candidate should be acting. So I haven’t given up hope.”
Face reality, Senator. The old saying about putting lipstick on a pig comes to mind.
Why are Republicans gasping as if Trump’s racist screed about U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over a lawsuit against Trump University, came as a complete surprise? You mean they’re just noticing Trump’s bigotry?
Have McConnell and the rest forgotten that Trump launched his campaign a year ago with a vicious attack on Mexican immigrants? “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” he declared. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Those were practically the first words out of candidate Trump’s mouth. Then, in due course, came his call to bar all foreign Muslims from entering the country – religious bigotry to go along with the ethnic-racial kind. Anyone paying attention must notice how Trump habitually speaks of “the Hispanics” and “the African-Americans” as if we were foreign and unknowable, the way a 19th-century British colonialist might have held forth about “the Malays.” Now, all of a sudden, Republicans are shocked and outraged?
It is ridiculous for Trump supporters to hope he will be able to maintain a facade of dignity and decorum until Election Day – or even that he will try to do so. First of all, he’s not very good at it. His “on-message” performance Tuesday was wooden and, frankly, boring. Scripted Trump is more likely to put the world to sleep than set it on fire.
Moreover, Trump clearly believes his success thus far has come largely because he is so unlike traditional politicians. “Politicians are so politically correct anymore, they can’t breathe,” Trump told The New York Times on Tuesday, hours before his low-key speech. “The people are tired of this political correctness when things are said that are totally fine. It is out of control. It is gridlock with their mouths.”
So how long does anyone think Trump will be able to keep his own big mouth gridlocked?
I realize that Republican officials are in an impossible position. Many of them are appalled by Trump. Yet they are also beholden to a GOP base that made Trump its clear choice in the primaries. Only a few have dared to say publicly that they simply cannot vote for this man as president – so far. It seems inevitable that there will be more.
Trump told Time magazine Wednesday that he was “disappointed and surprised” at Republican criticism over the Curiel episode. “I had just won more votes than anyone in the history of the party, so I was a little bit surprised when they said that. I didn’t think it was necessary. But you know, they have to say what they have to say. I’m a big boy. They have to say what they have to say.”
That does not sound like a man who is chastened. That does not sound like a man who is willing to get with the program.
“At least he’s not Hillary Clinton,” goes the Republican refrain. That is certainly true. Strip away the party labels, and you have one candidate who objectively is qualified to be president and one who manifestly is not. You have one candidate with a progressive agenda and one with a personal agenda.
At the end of the GOP convention, one presumes, balloons and confetti will rain down from the rafters. Republican leaders can stand and cheer the nomination of Donald Trump – or they can stay home and denounce it as the travesty it is. They can’t do both.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.