SAN DIEGO – Principles only mean something in times of confusion, conflict or chaos. When things are going smoothly, it’s easy for the leaders of a political party to proclaim what they believe. But you should check back when things are falling apart, and see if they’re still believers.
Thanks to the insurgent presidential campaign of Donald Trump, the conservative movement in America is falling apart. In the most recent example of the intramural tumult, conservative columnist Ann Coulter dismissively attacked Bill O’Reilly and “the rest of the scholars on Fox News” for daring to challenge Trump’s assault on birthright citizenship. The billionaire wants a do-over on the 14th Amendment so it no longer contains this sort of inconvenient language: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” So now Coulter has battered the one cable network that heretofore has given her a forum for her nativism and nuttiness.
One thing that divides conservatives is the question of whether Trump should take a loyalty oath to support the eventual Republican nominee if that person is not named “Trump.”
During the Cleveland debate, Fox News’ Bret Baier asked the 10 candidates in the main event to raise their hands if they were “unwilling tonight to pledge your support to the eventual nominee of the Republican Party and pledge to not run an independent campaign against that person.”
Trump’s hand went up.
Republicans were shocked – shocked! – to learn that Trump is not a team player. Where had they been? You would have thought, given that Trump assailed Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush by name right out of the gate when he first announced he was running for president, the Republican National Committee would have already figured out that Trump is only loyal to Trump.
Now there is a new movement afoot to get tough and bar from the next debate – which is scheduled to be televised on CNN on Sept 16 – anyone who refuses to pledge support for the party’s eventual nominee. (Read: Donald Trump.)
Good luck. Someone should have checked with CNN on that one. Since the Fox News debate attracted a record 24 million viewers, and since we can assume most of those people tuned in to see Trump, CNN will do everything in its power to make sure the showman is center-stage in the next debate.
In any case, even though I think his immigration proposals aren’t worth the cocktail napkin they were scribbled on, Trump should continue to resist the loyalty pledge.
For one thing, the Republican Party has it backward. Instead of demanding that Trump support the nominee, it should ask other GOP hopefuls to support Trump if he’s the nominee. The billionaire is leading the Republican pack in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire. A new CNN/ORC survey shows that he has won the trust of Republican voters on a variety of issues ranging from the economy to immigration to fighting terrorism. And the same poll shows that Trump has pulled to within six points of defeating Hillary Clinton in a general-election matchup.
More importantly, if Trump were to take the loyalty pledge, how could he continue to call himself a good Republican?
I thought the Republican Party opposed the idea of getting something for nothing? Isn’t that why Republicans argue against welfare or other social programs? So why does the GOP expect Trump to unconditionally back the party’s nominee sight unseen?
I thought this party didn’t believe in entitlements but valued merit. That’s what Republicans say when they rail against affirmative action, which some of them must see as non-white privilege. Shouldn’t whoever wins the GOP nomination have to earn Trump’s support like he or she would that of any other voter?
I thought the GOP was all about competition. Or at least that’s what you hear from Republicans who support free trade or promote vouchers for school choice.
Finally, I thought Republicans had low tolerance for playing the victim. If Trump doesn’t get the nomination and runs as an independent, you can bet the GOP establishment will claim that the renegade is ruining the party’s chances to retake the White House. This sounds like playing the victim to me.
You see, what we’re watching isn’t simply another nomination battle. It’s a war for the soul of a party.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.