Politicians, by their nature, will always strive to make a virtue of necessity. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to make it easy for them.
Unfortunately, that’s what many seemed determined to do this weekend, after the Friday afternoon release of video that showed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump saying his status as a celebrity allows him to grope women with impunity.
On Saturday, Republican lawmakers up for election next month began a mad scramble for the exits, throwing off a blizzard of rescinded endorsements, statements full of disgust and horror and high-minded sentiments about how women ought to be treated. A common, but not universal, suggestion was that Trump step down and allow his vice presidential nominee, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, to take his spot at the top of the ticket.
Many were greeted like heroes taking a brave stand on principle. Supporters thanked them on Twitter and Facebook. Websites kept running tallies of which members of Congress had come out against the Republican nominee for president.
Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah gave a heartfelt television interview in which he explained that, as the father of a 15-year-old daughter, he could no longer endorse or vote for Trump.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, whose too-cute-by-half “support but not endorse” stance was already the object of ridicule, said Saturday that Trump’s comments had made it impossible for her to vote for him.
The list kept expanding all day, as politician after politician took the chance to get out while the getting was good.
But there is no honor left in abandoning Donald Trump now.
In a year in which the bar for acceptable behavior has been lowered a little more every day, it’s now fallen below sea level if we give an iota of credit to people who took this long to denounce him. At this point, it’s not a demonstration of moral courage. It’s not taking a stand on principle. It’s not a statesmanlike decision to put country above self.
No. There is nothing brave about jumping off a train that’s headed straight over a cliff. If anybody deserves recognition, it’s the ones who were standing on the platform, begging their friends and colleagues not to get on board in the first place.
Because let’s face it. We all knew who this guy was a long, long time ago. Listing all of Trump’s assaults on civility, good taste and common decency has become tedious and repetitive. But suffice it to say that there was plenty of evidence long before Friday’s revelation — and before the Republican National Convention, before the primary voting began, even before Trump descended the golden escalator in Trump Tower to announce his candidacy — that he was not fit to serve as president.
There were plenty of people with impeccable conservative Republican credentials practically shouting it from the rooftops. The 2012 Republican nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, forcefully denounced Trump. Sitting senators like Arizona’s Jeff Flake and Utah’s Mike Lee were never willing to get behind The Donald. Many of his competitors for the GOP nomination — former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Ohio Gov. John Kasich — couldn’t bring themselves to back him.
These folks made their call about Trump long ago, and they did it with information that was available to anybody with even minimal curiosity.
Contrast that with the people jumping ship today. Deciding that his most recently revealed verbal atrocities, reprehensible as they were, is what disqualifies Trump from office is to tacitly admit that you were effectively willing to tolerate everything else the GOP nominee has said or revealed about himself over the past 15 months. That includes barely veiled appeals to racism, outright misogyny, a stunning lack of knowledge about virtually every realm of public policy, repetition of demonstrable lies and worse.
In a way, it’s the last of the Trump loyalists at this point — people like House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus — who are being, if not honorable, at least consistent here.
They have, all three of them, released statements deploring Trump’s comments but not rescinding their endorsements. It’s clear that while they don’t like everything Trump represents, they are willing to tolerate it if it helps the party retain power.