Just Say It: Trump Has No Standing to Debate in My Party

Donald Trump has broken the political contract with my party. The RNC should return the favor and bar him from the debates, even if it costs us the election
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Donald Trump has broken the political contract with my party. The RNC should return the favor and bar him from the debates, even if it costs us the election

Donald Trump has said plenty to offend humanity at large, which humanity, ever the sucker for a train wreck, keeps rewarding with high ratings. But speaking strictly as a perennially disappointed Northeast Republican, what I find most outrageous is his transparent abuse of my party for expediency's sake.

Rick Wilson recently pointed out on CNN, as others have, that Trump isn't even consistently registered as a Republican, probably rendering him ineligible for the primary ballot in at least a dozen states. He's backed Hillary and other Democrats whenever the winds shifted that way.

Trump himself told MSNBC's Joe Scarborough all we need to know: that for him, "the best way to win is to win as a Republican. I do not want to 'do independent' at all." But he'll make his calculation based on "how I'm being treated by the Republicans."

The Republicans: Third person. The Republican National Committee should exercise some discretion for a change, and insist that Fox and CNN exclude this opportunistic parasite from the free ride he seeks from the party he so plainly despises. They should bar him from next week's debate.

They've laid the groundwork. Reacting to Trump's words on Sen. John McCain, RNC spokesman Sean Spicer said: "There is no place in our party or our country for comments that disparage those who have served honorably." Earlier this month, RNC chair Reince Priebus spent an hour attempting to reason with The Donald on his immigration rhetoric and other matters.

It's not enough. In fact, Priebus's most recent gambit-welcoming Trump to the fold, while entreating all candidates on the Republican line to forswear third-party options-sends exactly the wrong message.

I know: national polls are set to determine who gets to the stage in Ohio. "It's objective," some assert.

Rubbish. Early numbers are volatile, and spread so thin that many register below the polls' own sampling error. Despite Trump's dramatic headline advantage, 80% or so of us Republican primary voters prefer any number of other candidates drawn from the most diverse and obscure slate in memory. And with methodological problems with recent polls rampant, few recognize that among more active Republican voters, he's well behind Walker and Rubio, and that nearly one in three party regulars wouldn't vote for him under any circumstances.

How about this for an objective standard: You habitually refer to Republicans in the third person, you're out of the club. Trump himself gets it, boasting to The Hill, "I'm not in the gang." It's one of his top talking points.

That goes for his backers, too. Though most of Trump's support will likely prove impetuous and fleeting, whatever supporters he manages to hang onto for 15 months should exit our party with him-even if it costs us the election.

It very well might. The risk of a spoilt election from a third-party Trump bid may be even greater than during the ones Ross Perot and Ralph Nader engineered in 1992 and 2000, because 2015 does present Trump with a sliver of a natural constituency. It's the sliver that has abandoned the spirit of the Tea Party revolt against government bailouts during the 2010 cycle, or alloyed it to cartoonish and vulgar things. That's why so much is riding on how we handle Trump as a party.

Vulgar things are not new in politics, and they are not new in Republican politics. But the intolerance Trump spouts goes beyond anything coming from Sen. Ted Cruz or other candidates. It is alien to the tradition of passionate but principled activism that runs from Reagan, H.W. and Gingrich, straight through the original Tea Party movement to my own preferred candidate for 2016, Gov. John Kasich.

We can't sit back and hope it flames out on its own. We must quench it ourselves, in public, right now.

The spread has been rapid. For a few years after the bailouts of General Motors and the financial sector, objectors in both parties found rowdy but principled common cause against centrists like me who preferred a bloody save to outright economic collapse. Even the government shutdown saga was a complicated story implicating hardline ideology, not racially tinged animosity.

But more recently, modern-day Know-Nothings have been hitching a free ride into my party via the grassroots fervor of legitimate Tea Party conservatism. In just a few years, as Timothy Egan notes with pleasure, the dumb shouts of a Joe Wilson have opened the door to the sustained screeds of a Steve King. Trump's explicit ethnic and misogynist vitriol would be unimaginable even to those who produced the infamous "Willie Horton" ad in 1988, much less the controversial comedic spot taunting Harold Ford, Jr. in 2006. We've fallen far and fast from our nomination of the man who, whatever his many faults, campaigned as a "compassionate conservative" and took 44% of the Latino vote in 2000.

With Trump, this line of challenge to historic mainstream Republican values has reached a point of reductio ad absurdum. It comes at a time when broader questions of racial, economic and cultural division demand an adult tone. Even Priebus has said: "Tone matters, and how you speak matters."

As a policy question, should we repeat the amnesty that Reagan signed in 1986? Maybe, maybe not. Build that wall (presumably with Latino labor) and invoice Mexico for deportations? Meh. But whether you call it overdue by a few short years, or our still-lingering penance for the Southern Strategy, Trump's extreme rhetoric invites the RNC to denounce the dark animus that has gathered behind his candidacy, and purge it once and for all.

Hell, National Review, the Club for Growth and the Koch brothers have already frozen him out. What is Priebus waiting for?

Despite their impending coronation, the Democrats are in transition, too. But where Hillary parries Bernie and Warren on policy and dodges personal scandal, the choice on my side of the aisle has become one of the character of the entire party. And if we do induce Trump to run as an independent, it wouldn't be the first time a third candidate catalyzed a healthy realignment of party politics for the longer term.

John Anderson's dull 1980 bid quietly foreshadowed some of the balanced policies that achieved consensus after the 1994 midterms-a consensus that Hillary now defends uncomfortably against her own flanks. Teddy Roosevelt's progressive Bull Moose experiment may have lost in 1912, but his socially inclusive, selectively vigorous approach to government power and political reforms placed him on the right side of history, and established a model that progressive and mainstream Republicans can cite in beating back more ungainly power-grabs from the left. This time around, pushing Trump outside will help foster the realignment that we desperately need take place inside.

Trump himself knows the simplest solution to my party's Donald Problem: "Maybe people will get tired of me," he recently quipped. That's clearly Priebus's carefully calculated hope. But whether Trump stays or goes, he proves that a dangerous spirit of division has invaded the party that preserved the union and ended slavery. It now threatens the big tent that can boast of Jindal and Haley and Powell.

The gleemongering Egans on the other side of the aisle may be right. Perhaps we should have acted sooner. But we surely must act now.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, no squish on immigration, has called Trump a "cancer on conservatism." Let the Trumpendectomy begin. Just please, schedule it before the cameras roll in Ohio. It may cost us 2016, but it could save the GOP for a generation to come.

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