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Vail Daily column: Republicans face self-made predicament

Jack Van Ens

Republicans are gored on the horns of a dilemma and don’t know how to stop the bleeding.

South Carolina’s Sen. Lindsey Graham is forced to vote for either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, comparing the choice between the two undesirable candidates “like being shot or poisoned.” Either way, Graham feels bloodied because conservative GOP principles are modified.

How do principled Republicans such as Graham vote when their choice is between Trump and Cruz? Do they sit out this election, making the Democrat Party’s candidate unbeatable?

“Donald Trump, I think, is the most unprepared person I’ve ever met to be commander-in-chief,” groans Graham. “And when it comes to Senator Cruz, he’s exhibited behavior in his time in the Senate that makes it impossible for me to believe that he could bring this country together.”

Graham talks about the Republican presidential front-runners as reincarnations of Shakespeare’s characters Falstaff and Iago. Like the Bard’s mischievous con man, Trump is hard to take seriously but impossible to ignore. His candidacy thrives on oafish theatrical effect. He fills the stage and steals scenes from other political rivals.

Cruz reminds audiences of conniving Iago who stirs Othello’s jealous rage against his innocent wife Desdemona. If Trump is sand-paper rough, then Cruz slides across political stages with an oily affect. His habitual rightness sounds slick. One cons; the other connives.

Throw Bernie Sander’s threat of taxing rich Republicans into this mix and Graham gets exasperated, not knowing whether to rip up or exercise his ballot. He’s aghast, declaring, “If the past is any indication of the future of these three people (Cruz, Trump and Sanders), I think America would be in trouble if any of them got to be president of the United States.”

Scorning Trump and Cruz, GOP higher-ups side with Graham. He throws up his hands, shrugging to support the GOP’s presidential candidate. Then the senator gives a half-hearted nod to Cruz.

Sen. Graham speaks of Trump and Cruz as if they were a couple of rich “insiders” tied to the GOP hierarchy against whom they campaign as “outsiders.”

Republicans are forced to pick their poison or wait to be shot with Trump pitted against Cruz.

For months, The Wall Street Journal warned, “If Donald Trump becomes the voice of conservatives, conservatism will implode along with him.” Now the Wall Street Journal opposition has caved, trading this terrorist analogy for a quasi-endorsement, saying the editorial staff will “continue to see if Mr. Trump can begin to act like a president … and above all to decide who can prevent another progressive-left presidency.”

After calling Trump “a complete idiot” and joining Cruz’s Senate colleagues who avoid him, President George W. Bush’s right-hand man Karl Rove now equivocates.

First Rove predicted Trump’s candidacy would bring huge losses in the Senate, erode “dramatically” Republicans’ majority in the House and hang a GOP vacancy sign on the White House. Now Rove casts himself as a ringside handler for the brawler Trump who needs to “raise his game.”

Sacrificing cherished political principles, Republican leadership repeats a mistake made in the 1884 presidential election. Then upscale James G. Blaine, who fans called the “Plumed Knight,” was their racehorse. Beneath his cultured demeanor, this Maine senator operated like a low-class scoundrel. Striking illegal deals with railroads, he gained wealth and power.

Young Theodore Roosevelt Jr. reneged on principles his father taught him about voting for honorable candidates. He informed the Boston Herald that he wouldn’t sit out the 1884 election. Nor would he bolt the GOP. He’d vote for Blaine and then cleanse the Republican Party of its corruption by scrubbing it from within.

“Roosevelt was convinced that his decision would cost him his political career,” reports historian Roger L. Di Silvestro in Theodore Roosevelt in the Badlands, “but he was already acting in accord with a belief he would formulate in later years, that when a politician ‘begins to consider the possible effect of his actions upon his own political future, he loses his public usefulness.’

“He told the Boston Herald reporter, ‘I intend to vote the Republican presidential ticket … ’ Roosevelt believed ‘Party transcended persons, and that only in the gravest case imaginable was one justified in bolting his Party because one disapproved of its candidate.’”

Party loyalty versus principled conservatism: Republicans wrestle with this dilemma. They waffle like the Apostle Paul when he flip-flopped between good and bad, lamenting, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want, I do” (Romans 7:19).

Divisive politics and “take-no-prisoners” tactics shove Republicans into their self-made predicament. They’re boxed in: either selling their souls to Trump or Cruz or boycotting voting booths, thereby handing Democrats a landslide presidential victory.

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.


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