“Patience, my friend, patience . . . we need just one more episode.”
“My colleagues are close to the breaking point.”
This is what one hears — this is what I’ve heard — in recent days from Republican senators, congressmen, and other assorted big shots, when they’re asked if they’re ready to abandon the Trump Train.
After Donald Trump’s mind-boggling assault on Judge Gonzalo Curiel, after his childish response to the Orlando massacre (one that risked discrediting legitimate critiques of Obama’s antiterrorism policy), after his casual slander of soldiers who served in Iraq . . . serious Republicans have given up defending Trump.
One no longer hears about how party unity is sacrosanct. One no longer is lectured about the glorious prospects the interlocutor has for influencing Trump. One no longer is treated to learned but irrelevant disquisitions about the grievances of those long-suffering Trump voters who, it turns out, have been living lives of quiet desperation across America, and whose seduction by a con man isn’t, apparently, to be challenged or rebuked.
What one hears now are expressions of dismay and sighs of resignation, accompanied sometimes by short lectures about the competing pressures and manifold complexities of political reality. And what one hears are reminders from the pols and the pros that it’s misleadingly simple-minded to think that if someone is hanging by a thread, maybe you should just step up and cut it. After all, no political consultant worth his salt would ever suggest anything so crude. No way.
Before even coming close to that daunting thread, we need more meetings! We need more polling! We need to wait for more evidence! We need to wait for more mistakes by Trump! We need to wait to see what others who are also waiting will do! We need to . . . wait, wait, wait.
Do we really? Trump’s ghastly performance over the last couple of weeks has revived the question of an open Republican convention, where delegates would have it in their power, should they choose to exercise it, to nominate any eligible citizen for consideration and to vote their conscience in a secret ballot. Meanwhile, the announcement of the Better for America group has given some organizational ballast to a possible independent campaign, with ballot access and signature gathering efforts about to get underway. Both an open convention and an independent candidacy are long shots. But they are far from hopeless.
But, you say, surely it’s doubtful either option ultimately would work.
Well, life is lived under the shadow of doubt.
In his final letter, shortly before his death and 50 years after the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson reminisced about his fellow signers, “that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country.” The choices the signers of the Declaration made were truly “bold and doubtful.” On the other hand, the choice to mobilize against Trump, the choice to try to save the party and the country from Trump and Clinton — such a choice isn’t even doubtful and doesn’t really require much boldness.
Jefferson continued by remarking on “the consolatory fact, that our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made.” Surely if Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell, if John McCain or Tom Cotton or Kelly Ayotte or Joni Ernst, if Chris Christie or Rudy Giuliani stepped forward to liberate themselves from the yoke of Trump, their fellow citizens would similarly approve the choice they would have made.
And we’re not talking about something difficult like launching a revolution. We’re talking about opening up a convention. We’re not talking about years of strife and struggle against the British. We’re talking about a five-month political campaign. We’re not talking about cutting a Gordian knot, which required the fortitude of Alexander the Great. We’re talking about cutting a thread.
So, leaders of the Grand Old Party, dig down deep, summon your courage, steel your nerve . . . and cut the thread.
William Kristol is editor of The Weekly Standard. This column is reprinted with permission of The Weekly Standard.
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