Dear Republican politicians: Let's talk about Donald Trump

One: Don’t go to Cleveland if you don’t have to. The party convention will be — must be — a festival of Trump promotion, Trump protests that could turn violent or at least ugly, and a national media feeding frenzy. If you’re a delegate, you need to be there. If not, stay far away. The imagery of that convention will make it very hard to come home unscathed, and believe me, you will need every day you can spare this summer to campaign back home, even if your state or district is less than an hour’s drive from Cleveland.

Two: It’s okay to keep your vote secret or undecided. Elections are binary and polarizing, and it might not be the model of courage to say, “I haven’t decided who I’m voting for” or “I’ll decide in the voting booth” or “Trump will have to persuade me, and I’m keeping an open mind.” For those of us who admire the guts of someone such as Nebraska senator Ben Sasse, for his bitter-end #NeverTrump stance, we also understand that Ben Sasse is in a deep-red state and won’t face the voters for four more years, when perspective has set in. Casting yourself as not yet persuaded by any candidate is a way to signal to voters that you share their dissatisfaction with the available choices.

Three: Follow Trump if you must, but don’t lead. Every Republican voter has to make a hard choice this fall. Many will end up resigning themselves to Trump as the alternative to Hillary. Some will end up resigning themselves to Hillary as the alternative to Trump. Many who end up in either camp will hate themselves, at least a little, for doing so.

But if your answer is merely “I guess Trump is the lesser of two evils” or “my constituents voted for him, I’m not going to second-guess them,” you might be able to defend that later by pointing to the Hillary administration. What you won’t be able to defend is interviews flacking for Trump or excusing his latest outrage, or appearing in ads for Trump, or standing on the same stage with Trump. Any time he’s in town, make sure to be somewhere else. You will never regret it, and there will be too many Republicans pursuing that strategy for you to face a lot of reprisals for it. And whatever you do, do not attempt to explain what Trump was saying the last time he put his foot in his mouth; it’s fine to just laugh and say, “Well, that’s what Donald Trump does.”

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