As Trump Touts His Judgment, Some GOP Leaders Back Away

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Jun 27 2016

Over the weekend, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump took a social-media fueled victory lap following the decision by voters in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. He also pummeled his Democratic counterpart, Hillary Clinton, for her opposition to the move, seeming to conflate choosing the winning side in the vote, as he did, with actual good judgment.

Whether or not the UK’s decision to leave the EU turns out to have been a good one -- if, in fact, the “Brexit” ever really takes place -- is something nobody can claim to know. The terms of the British withdrawal, and its follow-on effect, both economic and political, are impossible to predict with any accuracy.

Related: In the Aftermath of the Brexit Vote, the Bluffing Continues

Indeed, the uncertainty surrounding the impact of the Brexit vote was one of the main arguments against it in the first place. Economic calamity and a break-up of both the UK itself and of the European Union as a whole still loom as a distinct and alarming possibility.

Trump, though, treated the vote to leave, by itself, as vindication of his support for the move. 

Related: Brexit and Immigration, Where Trump Is Right -- and Wrong

It shouldn’t need to be said, but in the context of the 2016 election, perhaps it does: Correctly calling “heads” on a coin flip is not an example of good judgment. And when the stakes are something along the lines of “heads, we jump off this cliff; tails, we don’t” even wanting credit for predicting the correct outcome feels a bit strange.

Perhaps that is part of the reason why senior figures in the Republican Party are finding it increasingly difficult to pretend that they think Trump is qualified to lead the country.

Over the weekend, staunch conservative columnist George Will announced that he had left the Republican Party entirely after its senior elected leaders endorsed Trump for the presidency. Former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, who served under George W. Bush, announced that he would be voting for Clinton in November.

Then on Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was unable to bring himself to claim that Trump is even qualified to be president.

Related: Clinton Assumes Role of Anti-Trump After Brexit Win

“I think there's no question that he's made a number of mistakes over the last few weeks,” he told ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos. “I think they're beginning to right the ship. It's a long time until November. And the burden, obviously, will be on him to convince people that he can handle this job.”

Pressed on the question of Trump’s qualifications, he said, “Look, I'll leave that to the American people to decide. You know, he won the Republican [nomination] fair and square. He got more votes than anybody else against a whole lot of well-qualified candidates. And so our primary voters have made their decision as to who they want to be the nominee.”

Even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, one of Trump’s earliest supporters and someone who has excused many of the former reality television star’s bizarre statements, struggled to defend him Sunday.

Pressed by Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace on Trump’s inconsistencies and his willingness to say things that are demonstrably untrue, Gingrich said, “I think he stands for an evolving process of trying to come to grips with really big problems.”

Related: Brexit Wins -- Is President Trump Next?

“But does ‘evolving’ mean that what he said last week doesn’t stand this week?” Wallace countered.

“It may evolve as the facts evolve and as he learns more,” Gingrich said. “He has changed things as he has learned more. He’ll keep changing.”

Gingrich may have inadvertently spoken a hard truth about the current state of the GOP: Trump is now leading the party, but nobody really knows where.

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