We all know the expression “damning with faint praise;” our parents explained it after we won Most Improved in little league. Why is there no expression for the opposite behavior? Someone ought to coin a phrase for condemning as you endorse—you know, like Republicans keep doing with Donald Trump. Here’s Paul Ryan addressing the Republican nominee’s complaint that the judge in his fraud lawsuit is Mexican:
I disavow these comments — I regret those comments that he made. Claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment. I think that should be absolutely disavowed. It’s absolutely unacceptable. But do I believe that Hillary Clinton is the answer? No, I do not.
This is the strictest use of “disavow” ever. The speaker does say that what Trump did is “absolutely unacceptable,” before accepting, in the next sentence, that he is the only alternative to Clinton. Maybe he meant to say “I disregard these comments.” It’s not important. The important thing is that once again, cynicism affords us the opportunity to say “I told you so.”
You knew all the little pink men in suits would find reasons to endorse Trump, didn’t you? Their beginning to see his contradiction of their deeply held beliefs in a new light, now that he’s the only Republican in the race. Although they remain committed to conservative principals when it’s time to cut taxes and welfare, their allegiance is to the team. It’s too bad the new captain is a racist megalomaniac, but we still want to win the game, right guys? That’s how Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, for Pete’s sake, has to see it:
I am a Republican, but what I care more about is our nation, and where we’re going as a nation. And so again, I hope this isn’t the pattern that is going to occur between now and November. But what I see is, okay, you have got a binary choice.
That’s rich. Corker hopes Trump doesn’t say any more racist stuff, but even if he does, he still won’t be Hillary Clinton. I guess it’s good he’s being honest. But I worry such thinking could lure the Republican Party into damaging its brand more than it has to during this election cycle.
Senator Coker raises a useful question: Is there some theoretical maximum amount of bullshit the Republican Party will tolerate from its nominee? If Trump, for example, broke into the Smithsonian and added “no fat chicks” to the Declaration of Independence, would Ryan pull his endorsement? If the answer is no, no such maximum exists, I don’t know what to tell you. But if there is a limit to what Republicans will tolerate from Trump, they should set it with an eye toward expected value.
Let’s say Nate Silver is right, and Trump has a one-in-three chance of winning the election. It’s twice as likely he will lose. Whenever Trump says some crazy/evil thing, the party has to push more of its reputation into the pot or fold and withdraw its endorsement. As the election continues, it will cost the Republican brand more and more. It will also hurt the personal brands of individual party members. Probably, there will come a point of inflection, when the likelihood of his winning looks slim enough that these Republicans fold en masse.
Either that or no member of the GOP will ever admit that Trump can’t win, because that’s like voting for Hillary Clinton. In 2012, Karl Rove couldn’t even do it after the results were in. Maybe they’ll all go down with the ship. But there’s still time for them to think about it. Republicans should consider what Trump might say between now and when he loses this election, and what else they could lose by agreeing with him.