For Republicans, the primary may be over but this is still a time for choosing.
On Thursday, Donald Trump trotted up to Capital Hill to meet with Speaker Paul Ryan and the GOP leadership to try to assure them that he is not an electoral neutron bomb. Mutual hatred toward Hillary seems to be the closest the party can get to unity right now.
But despite a joint statement from Ryan and Trump after their meeting claiming “few differences,” the real divisions in the GOP right are deeper than ideology.
Fundamentally, this is a matter of individual principle versus party loyalty.
The Republican establishment is dividing into the Trump Resistance and the Trump Rationalizers.
Members of the Trump resistance look at his demagoguery and see disaster. For them, as Stuart Stevens has argued in The Daily Beast, refusing to support Trump is a moral decision more than a political one. Most of the leading figures on the center-right have chosen this path: both Presidents Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney along with blue state Republican governors like Charlie Baker, Bruce Rauner, and Larry Hogan. They don’t want to be tainted with support for Trump and his policies and vicious rhetoric when the reckoning and rebuilding comes.
The Trump Rationalizers are making a calculation that the famously authentic candidate has been lying to the base during most of the campaign to date. The Donald they know was just trying to seal the deal with the conservative populists by saying things that no New York billionaire could really believe. So they believe that he’ll break out a yuge Etch-a-Sketch and pivot to the center for the general election and, if it comes to that, governing.
Some of these rationalizers are simply motivated by self-interest. They see the Trump train as a way to get ahead. The elected officials will raise their profile, get prime speaking roles at the convention, and one will secure the vice presidential slot. Consultants see a chance to get rich on the ultimate gravy train while on-air apologists see Trump as a shortcut to a few months of fame, such as it is. Others rationalize their support by shrugging that they are simply following their constituents. It’s not surprising to see someone like Bobby Jindal flip-flop on Trump. But it’s sad to see former leaders of the center-right like Chris Christie and Jon Huntsman back what they must know is a kamikaze mission in the name of party loyalty or political self-interest.
This shouldn’t be a jump ball. The Republican Party has nominated someone who appeals to authoritarian impulses, not conservative ideas. If you can’t take a strong stand against someone with a demonstrated record of ignorance, division, and demagoguery, then what’s your deeper purpose for being in politics? Choosing between surrogates Sarah Palin and Paul Ryan really shouldn’t be that tough a call in 2016.
For Hillary Clinton the larger question is how she will respond to the historic opportunity that is Donald Trump. (Don't miss the rest, here)