The cowardice of Republican politicians who refuse to renounce Donald Trump is appalling. We know and they know that Trump is both despicable and dangerous. Yet they are silent. Some actually cheer for him. Others hold their nose or avert their eyes. Some mumble, hoping that their cowardice and hypocrisy go unnoticed. Some bury their heads in the sand as deeply as they possibly can.
We well know the best placed and most egregious of these cowards, people like Paul Ryan, John McCain, and Mitch McConnell, but there are thousands more. They know that Trump has gone too far. They probably know that some of their own radical rhetoric, disregard for truth telling, and lack of good grace has set the scene for his immoral megalomania.
These Republicans should be repudiated. The best way to do so is to defeat them. Mainstream and Progressive Democrats, working together, should leverage this display of moral lassitude into a reversal of the long, Koch Brothers-fueled trend of Republican victories in Congress and throughout local and state constituencies. These are the victories that make it possible for Republicans to win major government positions even as they lose popular elections. These victories have permitted them to gerrymander districts to minimize the capacity of people of color and progressives to give full voice to their concerns.
The current conflagration flared because of the contrast between Trump’s crude, defensive bombast and the dignified, principled, and highly articulate way that Khizr and Ghazala Khan—parents of a Muslim solider, who had died in an act of heroism, defending his buddies and his country—had the temerity to criticize him. With Trump, no criticism goes without a childish insult in return.
But as we know, this is only the latest among innumerable and inexcusable insults hurled by the Republican candidate for the United States Presidency. We probably don’t need a reminder but here’s a brief one. He accused Mexican immigrants of being rapists, whores, and violent criminals, even though we know that crime among immigrants is lower than that of ‘native’ Americans. He proposed monitoring Muslim communities (what some might call a police state), then banning all Muslim visitors, refugees, and immigrants. He published an anti-Semitic slur by linking Hillary Clinton to the ‘money interest,’ an old Nazi tactic. He embraced Sadam Hussein’s methods and Putin’s leadership, and invited Putin to help him defeat Clinton. Treason? Embracing these immoral dictators is egregious in itself, but even worse is that it points the way to Trump’s leadership preference. Given the opportunity, Trump might well jettison democracy for strong-armed dictatorship.
Any one of these pronouncements should be enough for all Americans, Republicans in particular, to reject Trump. For the most part, the Republicans have not, including those like Marco Rubio and John McCain, who he has personally insulted. The question is: what should we do? Surely not campaign as usual. Trump represents a danger, a crisis, and we should respond with enough passion, persistence, and acumen to defeat him and all that he stands for.
I believe that the Trump candidacy offers Democrats and Progressives the keys to the electoral kingdom. Maybe the presidential contest will devolve into a runaway for Hillary Clinton; and maybe many in congressional and local elections will follow on her coattails. That would be great. But I don’t think we should just hope for this kind of vindication. It is unlikely to happen, and we need to take a much more targeted approach to highlighting the moral and psychological cowardice of Republicans who do not denounce their candidate.
Here is my proposal: First, we identify every vulnerable office holder or aspirant in local, state, and national elections—those who have not repudiated Trump, that is. This is how the Conservative activists succeeded following Lyndon Johnson’s landslide victory over Barry Goldwater. Second, we need to “out” them, make very public their failure to disown Donald Trump. Third, we should require a pledge from the vulnerable candidates that they will not support him. Fourth, we should hold these candidates and office holders accountable.
Here’s a precedent. Just before the 2012 elections, Grover Norquist put Republican office holders on the spot with his “taxpayer protection pledge,” threatening to “out” and build opposition to any who failed to sign. In response, 238 out of 242 House and 41 of 47 Senate Republicans signed. Some were in agreement, some were just frightened; almost no one dared oppose.
Why can’t we do the same: demand a pledge against racism, autocracy, and vicious political tactics? Why can’t we publicize those who refuse? Why can’t we keep a highly visible and running list for those who violate or condone others who violate the our basic human and American rights and values?
Let’s call it the Democracy Protection Pledge.