Vail Daily column: Stakes are high in Republican primary
Over a lifetime of voting in presidential contests, I’m about 50/50 between Democrats and Republicans. And how you vote in the November general election, Democrat or Republican, is your business.
But what is happening on the Republican side, as we approach the primaries, is as politically alarming as anything I have seen in my lifetime (that includes Nixon’s resignation for criminal activity in the Watergate scandal). The media are blowing this serious business into an incessant full-time game show, but the stakes are so much higher. We’re talking about the American presidency. In weighing what their primary vote will be, Republicans should take the longer view: Whether their nominee will ultimately be acceptable to evangelicals, Latinos and independents of many stripes who want to safeguard core American values of decency and respect. The stakes for the Republican Party could not be higher.
Yes, this article is about Donald Trump. The media have been captivated by Trump for months. But let’s call a spade a spade. Trump displays an appalling lack of substantive knowledge for someone who aspires to the highest office in the land at a dangerous time in U.S. history. Independents see right through him. Yet every Trump tweet, snark, insult, grunt or smirk receives media coverage ad nauseum. TV talking heads (aka analysts) cover debates, tell us who won, how he (Trump) did and speculate how those back in the pack can catch up or will fade from the scene. Trump relies on the brute force of personality and an unapologetic willingness to bully, insult and ridicule to advance his persona. Why then (at least in the polls anyway) are a plurality of Republican voters currently rewarding him with frontrunner status?
Many have pointed to a pervasive disappointment with politics and our leaders. This starts with President Obama. The U.S. and the world are much more dangerous than when he took office. Terrorism is real, including domestically. The U.S. now demurs to Syrian leaders who have murdered hundreds of thousands of their own citizens and caused millions to flee as refugees. ISIS, Iran (which, in violation of the just-signed treaty has just conducted ballistic missile tests) and Vladimir Putin are ascendant and the U.S. is seen as rudderless. There is racial unrest and deep animosity between racial minorities and law enforcement. The U.S. economic recovery is anemic, jobs are too low-paying and millions of Americans feel their circumstances getting worse. And Congress is seen as an endless argument that never gets anything done.
Unfortunately, Trump the media master is the beneficiary of this deeply felt national malaise. The weakness of leaders and fear by voters can beget a demagogue with blunt instrument solutions.
Step back people. Or, in the vernacular, get a grip. It is one thing to resent government and entirely another to support an individual whose campaign is built on bullying and bombast. OK, build a wall. But do we really think that someone who advocates mass deportations of Mexican children should be president? Someone who indiscriminately rails against Muslims (Christians, what if he were a secularist and railed against you)? Someone who on camera grotesquely mocks disabled people who raise questions about his policies? Someone who derides newscasters in coarse sexual terms when he is called out for demeaning women? Someone who criticizes the recent trade agreement because it allegedly helps China (it doesn’t) and couldn’t explain what the nuclear triad is? Someone whose “policies” turn on “we don’t win anymore,” “we’re stupid and they are smart”, etc., etc.
Add to that unmatched narcissism. You would think that the phrase “it’s all about me” was coined by Trump to describe himself. Again, content and substance to the wind. “They don’t like me.” “They like me.” “My opponents are losers and I’m on top.” Are these the traits we want in a president? I, for one, am unwilling to gamble my grandchildren’s futures on someone like this and, for our nation’s sake, neither should you.
Republicans need to recognize that evangelicals are not automatic Trump votes. To the contrary, I think evangelicals will conclude they have a special responsibility to oppose Trump if he is the nominee. Talk about knowing someone by their fruits. Here the fruits are crudeness, disrespect for the citizenry, and a willingness to crush opponents through ridicule. This is just the candidate. What would Trump do if he were voted into power? Put Trump’s Mexican children deportations in terms of the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. This is a goat if there ever was one. And a goat that is irreconcilable with the core American values of providing opportunity and compassion to those who seek to better their lives. Republicans, evangelicals will figure this out.
Republicans should also worry that growing Latino political power may keep Republicans out of the oval office for years to come. Self-destructively, Republicans can ensure this result by putting Trump on their ticket. Latinos embrace many conservative values, family and otherwise, so why drive millions of these votes into the Democratic column by nominating someone who is openly hostile to their interests?
One more thing. To date, some Republican candidates have refused to call Trump out, on the grounds that any Republican is better than the expected Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. If the Republican Party now stands for the lowest common denominator (make no mistake, Trump is the lowest common denominator), then you will have lost me, (and millions of independents like me) who will resent the Republican Party for depriving us of its best candidate whose views we can legitimately juxtapose against those of the expected Democratic nominee.
If Trump becomes the nominee, this will be much worse than “I told you so.” The Republicans will have nominated a person with character traits more reminiscent of pre-World War II European despots than of someone who embraces the highest and best of American ideals. Clinton, a flawed candidate, needs to run against a respected Republican nominee so that independents and the American people have a real choice. Republicans, you should worry that, if Trump is on your ticket, I and millions of independents like me will conclude we have no choice and will vote for Clinton to be our next president. You can help reverse this self-destructive course by exercising your primary vote for any of Trump’s Republican rivals and thereby give independent voters a real choice.
Charles Jackson is a Chicago lawyer. He and his wife live in Illinois and the Vail Valley.