Years from now, bright-eyed children will look up at Grandma or Grandpa and ask, “Where were you when they nominated Donald Trump?” Far too many prominent Republicans will have to hang their heads in shame.
As the garish imperial coronation in Cleveland reaches its climax, there will be much commentary – some, no doubt, from me – about fleeting events. Did So-and-so’s speech help Trump or hurt him? Did one line of attack against Hillary Clinton seem more or less promising than another?
All of this is news, but we must not lose sight of the big picture: The “Party of Lincoln” is about to nominate for president a man who is dangerously unfit for the office.
Trump is a brilliant showman, no question about that. His life’s work has been self-aggrandizement, not real estate, and all those years of practice served him well when he turned to politics. He knows how to work a crowd. He understands television and social media. He dominated and vanquished a field of experienced campaigners as if they were mere apprentices.
But he lacks the knowledge, curiosity, temperament, wisdom, compassion and resolve to be president. The GOP is about to formally endorse a charlatan for the most important job in the world.
Great political parties do not do this. They might nominate a candidate who is too conservative or too liberal, too wooden or too glib, too inexperienced or too much of a warhorse. They do not nominate the likes of Trump.
The shameful thing is that so many of those scheduled to speak at Trump’s convention know full well that he should not be allowed anywhere near the Oval Office. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said that Trump’s candidacy was “a cancer on conservatism, and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised and discarded.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, set to appear by video, called Trump a “con artist” and an “erratic individual” who should not be trusted with the nuclear codes. House Speaker Paul Ryan reluctantly endorsed Trump and since then has spent more time criticizing the loudmouthed mogul than praising him.
Explain yourselves, Republican officials. You know that Trump should not be president. Do you secretly assume he will inevitably lose to Clinton? In that case, perhaps you think your support makes sense as a way to promote party unity or self-interest. (I’m being redundant; most politicians believe party unity and self-interest are the same thing.)
But what if Trump wins? Surely you are not under the illusion that Trump would follow the advice of more experienced hands and allow himself to be molded into a statesman. Anyone clinging to that fairy tale paid no attention to the final months of the primaries, when Trump would give a conventional teleprompter-aided speech and the very next day go back to raving like a madman.
Anyone wondering just how bad a Trump presidency would be got a preview from the joint interview he did Sunday with his vice-presidential pick, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, on “60 Minutes.” It was unintentionally hilarious – but also chilling.
It appeared that the candidates had spent all of five minutes preparing for the encounter, since they fumbled when correspondent Lesley Stahl asked obvious questions they should have known were coming. If Clinton’s vote for the Iraq war showed bad judgment, as Trump claims, what about the fact that Pence voted the same way?
“I don’t care,” Trump declared. When pressed, Trump said that Pence was “entitled to make a mistake every once in a while” but Clinton was not.
Asked whether Trump “went too far” when he criticized Sen. John McCain as “not a war hero” because he was shot down over Vietnam, poor Pence hemmed and hawed until Trump gave him permission to speak freely. “That one, you could say yes,” Trump told his running mate. “I mean, you’re not – it’s fine. Hey, look, I like John McCain. But we have to take care of our vets.”
When Trump first came out with his proposed Muslim ban, Pence called it unconstitutional. Now he loyally says he supports Trump’s idea, which seems to have morphed into something Trump calls “extreme vetting” and applies only to Muslims from “territories and terror states and terror nations.”
When Trump went on about how he would declare war against the Islamic State but without dispatching U.S. troops, Pence said that “this is the kind of leadership that America needs.”
It is not leadership. It is gibberish. And Republicans in Cleveland will pretend the emperor is wearing clothes.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.