In the aftermath of the final presidential debate, Republican leaders and elected officials will no longer be able to shirk their responsibility to curb Donald Trump — who has become a clear and present danger not only to their party but to this country. He isn’t dangerous because he soiled the GOP brand once more, because he mocks and taunts other Republicans, or because he is so likely to lose and take some of them down with him.
No, Trump is dangerous because he refused to agree that he would accept the election’s outcome if he loses, inviting a violent reaction by his supporters — and because he sided with the Russian Federation against US intelligence and military leaders over their alleged interference in this election. Even his running mate Mike Pence has found these bizarre positions insupportable.
What Trump’s startling debate responses showed was not merely his vacuum of proper temperament and judgment — personality defects that are all too well known by now — but his casual lack of respect for basic American institutions and traditions. His casual dismissal of profound concerns over Russian incursions against US citizens, despite the briefings he has received from American intelligence officials, was stunning. He accepted the denials by Russian officials and implied that his own country’s services are lying.
Frantically as he waves the flag, spouting nationalism and xenophobia, Trump’s “patriotism” is now exposed as a ruse. Although he pretended to denounce interference in American elections “by any country,” at the urging of moderator Chris Wallace, he has encouraged the suspected Russian intrusions into this process all along — and reaffirmed that position last night.
No doubt many Republicans have been troubled by Trump’s shadowy and compromised relationship with the regime of Vladimir Putin. His strange pronouncements about Ukraine, Syria, and other foreign issues, seeming to justify or whitewash aggressive Russian policies, are far outside the American mainstream in either party.
But he went further still when he renewed his refusal to accept the election’s results. For all his obsequious blather about Putin, nothing could be more pleasing to the Russian boss than this grotesque attempt to discredit American democracy. Putin and the oligarchs who surround him often argue that the United States is “hypocritical” in advocating democracy, transparency, and human rights, because our own practices are imperfect. When a major party presidential candidate disparaged our system as “corrupt” and “rigged” before an audience of millions, he delivered an extraordinary propaganda victory to the Kremlin.
Even if Republican officials don’t fully grasp the foulness of Trump’s end game, they must have begun to realize that he poses an existential threat to them. For any individual GOP Senator or Representative, there is a strong possibility that he or she may win even if Trump loses. But when he seeks to discredit the validity of the election as fraudulent, where does that leave those victors? By definition, he and his alt-right supporters are undermining the legitimacy of every official elected on November 8.
The hard truth, as my friend @LOLGOP and other writers have previously explained, is that the Republicans only have themselves to blame for Trump. For year they have mundanely exploited the same racial divisions, fake issues, and intellectual dishonesty that he transformed into political performance art to take over their party.
The Republicans must also look inward to find the roots of the insurrectionary attitude now adopted by Trump’s supporters, and stoked by his comments about the election. Dating back to the militia movement during Bill Clinton’s presidency, and especially with the rise of the Tea Party in reaction to Barack Obama, too many Republicans have eagerly stirred up fanatics for their own partisan benefit. They colluded with the gun lobby and other extremist groups to foment conspiracy theories and dark rumors of government oppression, while promoting fantasies of armed rebellion.
Now that Trump has stepped forward to embody those apocalyptic ideas in his failing candidacy, the Republicans are suddenly frightened of their own creation. They will try to escape responsibility for whatever havoc he may wreak, although they hatched this movement long ago. The billionaire bully and his angry mob are their own shrieking chickens, finally coming home to roost.