John Boehner admitted, “I’ve never worked with a more miserable son of bitch in my life” and went on to describe Ted Cruz as “Lucifer in the flesh.” In the Senate, Cruz suggested that fellow Republican Chuck Hagel might be accepting payments from the North Koreans. In his campaign to establish theocratic rule he has enthusiastically pursued measures to oppress religious and ethnic minorities, persecute homosexuals, and subject everyone’s basic civil rights to his extreme sectarian religious views.
And despite these abhorrent policy stances, Ted Cruz was this blogger’s great hope for rescuing the Republican Party from Donald Trump. It’s not as crazy as it sounds.
Ted Cruz as President would be a waking nightmare. He is a man I would never support for any office and would be reluctant to leave alone with my children. Yet, if he had been the nominee I would have felt comfortable remaining a local precinct committeeman active in the Republican Party in Illinois. With Trump as the nominee, and my local party supporting him, I will resign my position and renounce any ties to the party.
Neither of these men ever had a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming President. Until the Republican Party is reorganized or reformed in a manner that renders it reasonably sympathetic to minority voters, demographic factors will keep the White House out of Republican reach. Ted Cruz would make a lousy leader, but he has limited himself to working within the democratic process. What makes Donald Trump such a threat to the republic is that he doesn’t have to win the General Election to dim my children’s future.
By being accepted and endorsed as the nominee one of our major political parties, Donald Trump will accomplish the existentially dangerous feat of legitimizing white nationalism. Worse, the entire right half of the political spectrum will be burdened more or less permanently by this association. A ‘foot in the door’ compromise Barry Goldwater made with segregationists fifty years ago will finally have ripened into a lethal disaster.
Open expressions racial bigotry and hostility have always been considered low manners and generally avoided. Even Confederates made efforts to veil their racism behind evasive language. Since the Civil Rights movement we have made remarkable strides in our efforts to fully delegitimize racist rhetoric and violence.
Yes, Republicans have been pandering to racists since the Sixties. However, in light of Trump’s appeals, complaints of “dogwhistle” signaling from Republican candidates now seem quaint. When Republicans still felt the need to conceal any racism, we could credibly believe (sometimes with good reason) that appeals to racism were no more than empty posturing. Everyone understood that in most cases the dogwhistle was a cynical distraction. It is precisely that ruse, that failure to follow through on the veiled promise of white supremacy, that so many white voters are now rebelling against.
With the dogwhistle smashed we’re seeing something far more dangerous emerge. In a pre-Trump regime, it still seemed possible to tackle the racism that infected the Republican margins. With Trump in charge, those margins have become the center. White nationalism is the only coherent policy Trump has outlined for the country. Under Trump, the Party of Lincoln is now the American White People’s Party. Participation in that political organization is a tar that will not wash off.
If this were some sudden departure from the norm, a strange temporary visitation like a meteor strike, it might make sense to stick around and wait it out. Our descent into open racism is not an anomaly. We spent decades building this monster. Trump is just the final, disastrous leap off the ledge.
Republicans’ comprehensive embrace of denialist politics was a loan we took out on our future. The interest payments are now bankrupting us. By rejecting any empirical understanding of reality we destroyed critical firewalls against extremism. Even before Trump, consistent signaling of sympathy toward racists was approaching dangerous extremes. What had been a cynical act was calcifying into a reality.
The GOP will not simply ‘fix the glitch’ with a few reforms somewhere down the line. Absorbing Donald Trump as a nominee means spreading a degree of moral corruption through the organization that is beyond any defensibility. With the dogwhistle tossed aside there is no more room for pretense. To remain in the party under Trump’s leadership means owning and defending white nationalism. Barring overt, public statements by party organizations farther down the chain, there is no way to evade this connection.
This problem extends beyond any simple difference of opinion on policy positions. Party members disagree over policy every day while working together toward shared institutional goals.
Donald Trump doesn’t have any policy positions.
Trump is challenging the basic legitimacy of our representative government. He is not so much a Presidential candidate as the leader of a violent political faction attempting to replace the organizing principles of our republic with a personality cult led by a TV celebrity. We have never faced a threat like this in our history.
If we make him our nominee, we will be supporting a leader who has clearly signaled his intention to disregard legitimate institutions and use violence and intimidation against his opponents. Never mind that he’ll lose. Once the institution absorbs that ethos it cannot be made whole.
One may equivocate and hedge, but there are some damning moral realities in this scenario. On a personal level, participating in Donald Trump’s Republican Party will mean using one’s personal political capital to support violence and intimidation against racial and religious minorities, and the pursuit of extra-legal and sometimes illegal tactics against critics. Save all the “but I don’t’s.” If Trump is the nominee it will be impossible to stop him from changing the character of the party. That’s how this works. For me personally to remain in and support the Republican Party will mean putting whatever personal political initiative I possess, no matter how insignificant, in the service of a political force determined to destroy our basic institutions.
Cruz is not a good leader. He’s probably not even a decent human being. And he’s pretty fiercely bigoted. He is, however, running his campaign within the bounds of democratic civility established and respected for generations. In short, he is keeping his rhetoric within defined norms and refraining from appeals to violence. By doing so, he retains space for others with different views to continue working inside the same institutions toward different goals. Cruz is preserving a basic respect for democratic institutions while pursuing his extreme and batty politics.
Ted Cruz may be Lucifer, but no one has been punched yet at his rallies. Journalists who write stories critical of Ted Cruz aren’t getting voicemails from someone claiming to be Hitler. Not one of Ted Cruz’s supporters, as batty as they are, have assaulted homeless Hispanics and used him as their excuse. Cruz hasn’t been endorsed by the KKK. None of Cruz’s rallies have been cancelled over violence.
Donald Trump is presenting us with a conflict that extends far beyond the kind of policy differences that have traditionally defined our elections. Trump is challenging the civilized norms that sustain representative government and protect basic civility. With Trump as the nominee this November, this won’t be a conventional contest between competing policy platforms. We have invaded foreign countries to depose leaders less reprehensible than Trump. Our 2016 Election will be a referendum on representative government.
A Republican Party with Ted Cruz as its nominee for President would not challenge my loyalty. I certainly wouldn’t vote to send Ted Cruz to the White House. I would, however, feel comfortable continuing to work toward sensible Republican policy goals here in Illinois and elsewhere.
For me there is no possibility of compromise with the party of Trump. The fact that he can’t win offers no shelter from the impact he will have on the party and on our politics at large. There are no “good Nazis.” As the party’s nominee, Donald Trump changes what it means to be a Republican in a manner that carries inescapable moral culpability.
Without a political party it isn’t clear what avenues would remain open for my meaningful political participation. There’s little reason to think that a Democratic “big tent” big enough to accommodate me could very long retain its structural integrity. Future directions remain to be worked out, but this much is plain – the Party of Donald Trump will not include me.
There remains some possibility that Republican convention delegates will rebel against this outrage. Though unlikely, it makes sense to wait for the delegates solemnize this decision before walking away from a lifetime of political capital. The decision, however, is unavoidable. I can’t stop Donald Trump, but I won’t be culpable for offering him support in any manner.