Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Why are the Republicans turning on Donald Trump now?

With House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan the latest senior Republican to distance himself from Donald Trump, what interests and surprises me is not that the concerted Republican movement away from Trump has happened at all, but that it has taken so long, and what this says about the current state of the American right.
It took the release of the shock 2005 video about Mr. Trump's penchant for gratuitously groping women (including his favourite ploy, "grab them by the pussy", which has led to some people using the moniker "Pussygate") to galvanize Paul Ryan into officially decoupling himself from the Trump campaign, although it took him a couple of days to come to this conclusion, and in fact he has still not officially withdrawn his endorsement of Mr. Trump. This suggests, then, that Ryan was actually quite OK with a Republican leader threatening to throw his opponent in jail, or barring all Muslims for entering the United States, or building a wall to keep out Mexican rapists and drug smugglers, or any number of other Trump policies.
Granted, some other senior Republicans - people like Mitt Romney, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, etc -  had already distanced themselves before the video revelations, and they deserve at least some credit for that. But the video seems to have been the tipping point for many (over 2 dozen have officially withdrawn their support just since Monday, and many more have at least made hedging statements), indicating that they have the moral outrage bar set pretty high. Currently, it is though that about a third of Republican senators have either said they are not supporting Trump, or else have called on him to drop out as Republican candidate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and former presidential rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are all still on board the Trump train to nowhere, though, as is poor beleaguered running mate Mike Pence. (The Atlantic has produced a long a detailed list of party elders, representatives, senators, governors and influential opinion-makers, and their stance on The Donald.)
As Globe columnist John Ibbotson suggests, there is now a case for every Republican candidate in this election to have to stand up and officially declare to the world whether or not they still support Donald Trump and his policies. Better still, they should be asked whether or not they support him AND whether or not they plan on voting for him, because clearly the two things are not as closely linked as they might appear. They owe the voters that much at least.
In a way, it is interesting that this should have been the straw that broke the camel's back for many people. It suggests that, for the right wing at any rate, overt sexism is a stronger taboo than overt and extreme racism, even though Trump has already made many degrading references to women during his campaign (including "bimbo", "dog", "fat pig", etc). Personally, I still harbour suspicions that the problem for many Republicans is not the disrespect that Trump shows for women, but an old-fashioned Christian objection to marital infidelity.
Rolling Stone opines, quite convincingly, that the reason that Republicans are scattering like rats from a sinking ship is just that: for a time, while the opinion polls remained optimistic, most Republicans were quite content to ride Trump's coattails to victory, regardless of their actual opinions of the man; but as soon as his support, especially in the critical battleground states, began to sink, Trump became an albatross from whom Republicans were desperate to cut free. For many, then, this is not so much an ethical decision, but a cynical exercise in Realpolitik.
Another rather disturbing part of what it all shows - in addition to the purely cynical aspect of what they are willing to do, what kind of deals with the devil they would strike, in order to gain power - is the extent to which Trump has singlehandedly shifted the American right wing rightwards. The fact that so many Republicans could apparently stomach some of the man's more extreme policies suggests a willingness on their part to return to the divisive, racist, sexist, politics of the 60's, to an extent that would have been unthinkable just four years ago.
Outside of the Republican establishment, though, things look even worse. Some of the behaviour that has come out at Trump rallies - T-shirts emblazoned with "Trump that bitch", "Lock her up" and the particularly succinct "Cunt" - would also have been unthinkable much more recently than four years ago. But, apparently, not today. And consider this: 8% of respondents in a recent poll said that the Trump "grab them by the pussy" video made them think BETTER of him, not worse; Republican lawmaker Michael Folk has publicly opined that Clinton should be "hung on the Mall", and Trump adviser Al Baldasaro has suggested that "she should be shot in a firing squad for treason"; 40% of Trump supporters in swing-state Ohio answered a recent poll that (in general terms not specific to this particular election) the country is better off with a male president than a female one. I could go on, but I'd only get even more depressed.
Ah God, but the man has a lot to answer for, however the election turns out.

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