Originally published on the Star Tribune Blog.
In ten years, it will be fascinating to read about how the Republican party has folded this election season. The Republicans have had a majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate since 2014 and knew that Hillary Clinton, a candidate with a less-than-neutral reputation, was going to run for the Democratic ticket in 2016. In early 2015, it seemed like a anyone but Hillary would win the 2016 election until Donald Trump stunned the nation with his victorious claim of the Republican nomination. The “Never Trump” movement was strong until the convention when many Republicans – Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Marco Rubio included – announced official backing of Trump to promote the party’s chances of winning the election. However, today it seems many Republicans officeholders wish they had could have been more like Ted Cruz in July as they are falling off the Trump bandwagon en masse. After Trump’s vulgar sexual comments were released last week, John McCain, Paul Ryan, and a dozen others withdrew their support. The question remains, why are Republicans fleeing Donald Trump now?
The Donald Trump we see today is the same Donald Trump we saw three weeks ago or three months ago. It is no profound revelation that Trump has made sexist, rude, and disrespectful comments towards women in the past. He called Alicia Machado “Miss Housekeeping” and comfortably associates some women, particularly Rosie O’Donnell, as “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals”. He has used profanity in speeches on the campaign trail and has insulted countless high-ranking Republicans with rash comments and childish nicknames. His character, personality, public demeanor, and policy stances have not radically changed. In Sunday’s debate, Trump restated his anti-immigration and anti-ISIS policies along with a few classic comments about how he would like to send Hillary to jail. This is the same schtick for Trump but Republican senators and representatives are disowning him quickly. While Hillary has jumped ahead in the polls, we do not see a proportional decrease in Republican citizen’s support for Trump compared to the loss of support from party leaders. Republican nominees for Congress are beginning to see that an association with Trump could lead to a loss for them and are trying to bail before the ship sinks.
Paul Ryan said this morning that he was going to focus his energy and defending his party’s majority in congress instead of supporting Donald Trump. These congressmen and governors are banking on attracting more Hillary-supporting Republicans by distancing themselves from Trump. However, some Republican voters are outraged at Ryan, Carly Fiorina, and John McCain for abandoning the candidate that was elected by the people as their choice for president. For this portion of the population, the dissenting congressmen would fail as these voters are voting locally for Democrats, instead of their “coward” or “unfaithful” Republican nominees. They plan to remain loyal to Trump in the presidential election.
Where does this issue put Republican citizens? Republicans must choose to vote party line, vote for the candidate that shares their domestic and foreign policy values, vote for Hillary Clinton because they cannot support Trump’s offensive behavior and language, or vote for anyone but Hillary or Trump because they think they are equally bad choices. While Trump’s comments about sexually assaulting women were disturbing, we cannot assume the Republican exodus was caused by that singular newsbreak. As mentioned before, Trump’s persona, ethics, and policy stances have not changed. The Republican establishment has abandoned their core constituents for their personal gain, realizing that their careers are in danger because he is less likely to win than before. They are taking the gamble that more Republicans are frustrated with Trump than supportive of him. While I think that is true of the general population, it is not a true statement for the conservative majority that elected Donald Trump in the first place. There will be more cross-party voting in the presidential election than smaller congress elections meaning this break with Trump may help him lose the presidency but do little for the Republican party. The Republican congressmen may be making a moral stance but it is too late to be believable. This move by the Republican establishment will lead to a tattered party, frustrated voters, the inability of Republicans to win back the House and Senate, and a huge question mark to where the GOP will go after Trump.