Former GOP senator: We need to make clear that Trump doesn't represent what the Republican Party stands for

He beat 16 candidates to win the party’s presidential nomination. And not JV-level candidates like Romney did in 2012, either. Cruz, Rubio, Rand Paul and others were big names, fluent in discussing policy, and (with a few key exceptions) reliably right-wing on the issues. Trump defeated them all easily in nearly every major primary. And once he was nominee, they all fell in line behind him. It bears stressing this: He’s the same guy now as he was last year. There have been various shocks during his first seven months but no true surprises. The party chose him expecting him to be this guy, elected him expecting him to be this guy, and is now being rewarded by having him be this guy. Even with no significant legislation passed, daily distractions on Twitter, sniping at congressional Republicans, needless self-made clusterfarks over some of the “very fine people” in the alt-right, conflicts of interest, and sporadic Russiagate developments, he still enjoys the backing of 75-80 percent of GOPers or better in most polls. When Kevin Williamson, disgusted, warned Republicans after Trump finished off Cruz in the Indiana primary, “Remember, you asked for this,” he wasn’t just warning them about the chaos to come. He was acknowledging a plain fact. We did in fact ask for this.

John Danforth can comfort himself over that if he likes by asserting that Trump doesn’t represent Republicans, but Republicans themselves have been pretty clear over the past 26 months what their view of that is. You don’t need to like what the party’s become, but we’re late in the game now to insist that it hasn’t already become that.

The fundamental reason Trump isn’t a Republican is far bigger than words or policies. He stands in opposition to the founding principle of our party — that of a united country…

It isn’t a matter of occasional asides, or indiscreet slips of the tongue uttered at unguarded moments. Trump is always eager to tell people that they don’t belong here, whether it’s Mexicans, Muslims, transgender people or another group. His message is, “You are not one of us,” the opposite of “e pluribus unum.” And when he has the opportunity to unite Americans, to inspire us, to call out the most hateful among us, the KKK and the neo-Nazis, he refuses…

As has been true since our beginning, we Republicans are the party of Lincoln, the party of the Union. We believe in our founding principle. We are proud of our illustrious history. We believe that we are an essential part of present-day American politics. Our country needs a responsibly conservative party. But our party has been corrupted by this hateful man, and it is now in peril.

Yeah, I don’t know. “Trump corrupts” is a seductive narrative for right-wing Trump critics but it always seems to place too much moral culpability on Trump himself and not enough on his alleged victim. When Marco Rubio claimed during the primaries that Trump wasn’t stable enough to be trusted with the nuclear codes, then turned around and endorsed him like 10 weeks later because it was in his own interest as a Senate candidate in Florida to do so, was that evidence that Rubio had been “corrupted” or that he was always sort of corrupt and Trump merely presented him with an opportunity to show it in an unusually stark way? You can find similar examples for a hundred other GOP officials and right-wing commentators. This goes right to the heart of Danforth’s argument too. If Trump has “corrupted” the party, then excising Trump could, I suppose, restore the party to a purer state. But if the party itself is corrupt and Trump is but a symptom of the corruption, that’s a much knottier problem. Which is it?

Danforth’s also worried about Trump’s dwindling job approval tainting the GOP brand forever. I don’t know about that either. The animating impulse of the right at this point is simply stopping the left, and as the left overreaches in various ways, Republicans will gain new voters. The recent mania over tearing down Confederate statues is one example. Danforth should look around at the Senate forecasts being made by political pros and data nerds for next year. Despite Trump’s historically low first-year ratings, the GOP is still predicted to hold the Senate and possibly even gain seats. That’s not to say Trump’s not a drag on the party — he may well be, especially in the House — but even his terrible numbers probably aren’t enough to spoil a very favorable map and a strong anti-liberal cultural tilt towards the GOP in red states. Voters, I think, increasingly define themselves by what they’re against, not what they’re for. If you’re anti-“elite” or anti-“globalist” or anti-progressive, you’ll put up with a party led by Trump. The punchline is, if Danforth eventually gets his wish, it may be Trump himself who grants it. I think the president’s far more likely to disassociate himself from the GOP by going independent than the party is to disassociate itself from him. Trump leaving and taking a huge chunk of Republican voters with him would indeed finish off the GOP. Danforth and like-mindeds need to consider if they’re willing to pay that price to be rid of him.

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