Twenty-four years ago, Democrat Edwin Edwards — a man who could have come out of central casting as the corrupt politician — was nevertheless running for another term as the governor of “let the good times roll” Louisiana. The Republicans had managed to go bonkers and choose none other than former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke to run against him. But Duke was too extreme even for the far-right-but-not-that-impolite members of the GOP establishment, so just before Election Day, they distributed a bumper sticker: “Vote for the Crook. It’s Important.” The crook won. Edwards was elected to his fourth term. He later went to prison, but that’s not the point.
The point is that in 2015, the nation’s Republicans have their own grand dragon in Donald Trump. His latest noxious fire-breathing, of course, is his declaration that all Muslims should be prohibited from entering the United States. Even though he has edged backward a teeny bit by clarifying that this wouldn’t apply to U.S. citizens who practice Islam, the Trumpster’s latest pile of bigoted garbage still has brought widespread condemnation. Many of his fellow GOPs have tried to set fire to this latest Trump dump. Jeb Bush called him “unhinged.” Lindsey Graham declared, “Tell Donald Trump he should go to hell.” Even Dick Cheney — a man whom President George H.W. Bush called a “hard-ass” — was repudiating The Donald’s announcement: It “goes against everything we stand for and believe in.” Maybe that is because it didn’t include waterboarding.
What we were hearing from none of the Republicans was a definitive indication that if Trump was their nominee, they’d repudiate him and support the Democrat, presumably Hillary Clinton. Of course, they’ve accused Clinton of all manner of dishonesty, but there were few hints from them that if it was ultimately her versus Trump, they’d put conscience over expedience and create a new bumper sticker: “Vote for the Liar. It’s Important.”
Instead we’ve gotten evasiveness, wishy-washiness, even implied support for Trump. From the new House Speaker Paul Ryan, who is trying to cast himself as an enlightened conservative, we hear “I’m going to support whoever the Republican nominee is” — even one whose policy is “not what this party stands for, and more importantly, it’s not what this country stands for,” as Ryan put it.
He and the others are being careful to not offend that sizable block of hardliners in their party who have made Donald Trump the leader among the GOP presidential candidates in most polls. They want to appeal to them if the Trump rocket fizzles, even though it’s starting to look like it may keep flying high. What if he actually is their nominee? Will they support Hillary? That or a Trump independent run, which he always threatens, would mean the Democrats would keep the White House and maybe take over Congress, too. But would they put party over country? Good question.
There are a few conspiracy theorists out there who suggest that the Clintons are behind Trump’s candidacy, that they somehow manipulated him into running as a surefire way to grease the path to a Hillary victory. Jeb Bush awoke long enough to float the idea. But there are some fatal flaws in that scenario. For starters, the Clintonistas may be that devious, but they’re not that good. There’s no way in the world they could pull that off, even with a megalomaniac like Donald Trump.
Besides, they’d be risking the possibility that The Donald could become The POTUS, that he’d take all the marbles because enough of the voters had lost theirs. In fact, there is one positive to his success thus far. At least the attraction to Trump’s poison has forced us to face the reality that the United States is one troubled country. The fanatics of ISIS are well-aware of that. They know they can exploit our being consumed by fear and bigotry. Donald Trump is just making their job easier. So are those he intimidates.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist and commentator.