With less than two months to go before the first votes are cast, the GOP establishment is scared that Donald Trump might win their party’s nomination or, worse for them, go off and mount an independent candidacy.
They see polls showing him to be the one who will do the most to help deliver voters for Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
GOP leaders shouldn’t be surprised.
Republicans have been preaching xenophobia, fear and racism for years, and now one of the most skilled practitioners of that dark art is leading in the polls for the party’s nomination.
It’s not that the establishment is so bothered by his rhetoric of fear and hate so much as it’s in near panic that he could lose the presidency and take the GOP’s Senate majority and a big chunk of their House seats down with him.
Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus calls Trump a “net positive” for the party. I’ll bet he doesn’t say that in private.
Priebus led a post-election “autopsy” of the GOP’s 2012 defeat that concluded the party needed to show Hispanic, black, Asian and gay Americans “we care about them, too.” Instead it went in the opposite direction, with Trump leading the charge.
It rejected expanding gay rights, notably same-sex marriage, and blocked immigration reform.
Even with two Hispanic senators running for president, Republicans are stirring up the nativism that always lurks beneath the surface of American politics, using security in this age of terrorism as an excuse.
They’ve gone from Mitt Romney’s self-deportation idea to building a huge wall, setting a religious test for immigrants, locking out all Muslims and evicting 11 million undocumented workers. Trump launched his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants drug runners and rapists.
Jeb Bush wants to admit only Christian refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war, and most Republican governors have said they don’t want any of them regardless of religion.
Trump likes to boast that his daughter converted to Judaism and he “loves, loves, loves Israel,” but he was the only GOP candidate booed at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s meeting last week.
The party’s Jewish fat cats were disappointed that he wouldn’t call Jerusalem Israel’s undivided capital, questioned whether Israel really wants peace and said the rich Jews at the meeting wouldn’t support him because he’s so rich he can’t be bought.
Fear not. The Donald is an equal opportunity offender.
And GOP elites can’t escape responsibility. They’ve largely tolerated his prejudices based on gender, ethnicity, religion, race and physical handicap to inflame fear and hatred. If he is so bigoted against Hispanics, blacks and Muslims, why wouldn’t Jews show up on his list at some point? It may not be kosher to quote the New Testament in a Jewish paper but the party that boasts of its strong Christian faith should be familiar with Galatians 6:7: “Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.”
They are reaping what they have sown for years, particularly with the rise of the extremist Tea Party, three of whose champions – senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul – are running for president. The hard right House Freedom Caucus may have only 39 members but it is the tail wagging the other 237 members of the GOP caucus. They drove out one speaker and are muscling his successor into giving in to their demands for a more rightward tilt, pointing to even greater governmental paralysis.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) warned the RJC audience that extremist views, like those on abortion espoused by Cruz and Rubio, will drive voters away.
Cruz’s response is that Democrats have won recent presidential elections because the GOP candidates were not conservative enough, and he presents himself as the most uncompromising hardliner in the field.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman asks, “Why would the (GOP) establishment, which has spent years encouraging the base to indulge its fears and reject nuance, now expect the base to understand the difference between tough talk and actual effectiveness?” So what if the disasters Republicans predicted – the Ebola epidemic, hyperinflation, economic collapse, destruction of the nation’s health care system, and now Muslim terrorist attacks from Syrian refugees – failed to materialize, Krugman said. Their mission was to strike fear.
A demagogue in the tradition of Father Coughlin, Joseph McCarthy, Pat Buchanan and Gov. George Wallace, Trump is the party’s premier purveyor of fear and hatred; the lower he stoops, the higher his poll numbers. His popularity seemed to rise when he called Mexicans rapists and drug dealers, boasted that a black protester was roughed up by white supporters at an Alabama rally, called for banning all Muslims from entering this country, mocked a handicapped journalist, lied about seeing Muslim mobs in New Jersey celebrate the 9/11 attacks and spewed borderline anti-Semitic attacks. It’s only a matter of time before his supporters begin showing up at rallies wearing brown shirts.
As quick as he is to lie and smear opponents and critics, Trump is a shameless, thin-skinned bully who is even faster to take offense at any criticism, demand apologies, threaten legal action and talk about running as an independent if the GOP doesn’t “treat us fairly.”
Since the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Republicans have stepped up their beating of the war drums and Muslim-bashing. And they are just as extreme in rejecting even the most moderate gun control measures, including Obama’s call to “make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun.”
The extremism of the NRA is an old story made scarier by recent mass shootings, but it is the Trump candidacy, and his remarkable appeal to the GOP base, that should scare the pants off the GOP leadership – and Jewish Republican activists in particular.
It’s hard to imagine that the kind of bigotry and xenophobia his candidacy has stirred up will stop with Muslims and Hispanics. American Jews, who understand that their own security depends on the democratic pluralism this country has always embodied, understand this more than most, which is why a Trump nomination is all but certain to produce a record low Jewish vote for Republicans next November.
Even if Trump isn’t the nominee, the damage he is doing to GOP Jewish outreach efforts – compounded by a Republican establishment that set the stage for his rise – will be deep and long lasting.
The National Jewish Democratic Council and most other Jewish organizations have denounced the rabid Muslim bashing from Trump and others. Perhaps it is because they’ve read the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller inscribed at the entrance to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum: “First they came for the Socialists....”