Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Why the Republican Party Must be Held Accountable for the Donald Trump Fiasco

by Nomad

Trump debates

If Donald Trump loses the election, as it appears likely, there's one thing we can be sure of: we are going to hear a lot of Republican excuse-making in the following weeks and months. And there will be blame thrown in every direction. 
Sadly, soul-searching isn't really a Republican virtue. Looking back and learning from mistakes just isn't something the Grand Old Party is very good at. But the question is: will the voters accept the inevitable excuses from the republican establishment or this catastrophe?

Between Palin and Trump

To trace back the story of the Trump disaster, we have to begin in the election of 2008.
The failure of the selection process of McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin should have set off alarm bells that there were some serious flaws in the vetting process. Misplaced priorities, for want of a better phrase.

PalinBack then, Palin was hot stuff for the Republican establishment. The erratic and eccentric woman from Wasilla was popular- at least in the beginning- and she was entertaining. She was, early in the campaign, a plus for the party. A particular demographic  (older white male) found Palin a treat to look at if not to listen to. She had a certain charisma and a vibrant spirit, they said. 

Proud Ms. Palin called herself a "rogue" but nobody in the GOP bothered to check the dictionary for the precise meaning of that word: "a dishonest, knavish person; a tramp." A check of the adjective form provides even more of warning "no longer obedient, belonging, or accepted and hence not controllable or answerable."

Still, it was only a vice-presidential slot, the Republicans explained. All that "a heartbeat away" chatter was just a lot of fearmongering by liberals. McCain wasn't that old. What could go wrong?

By the time the book "Game Change" came out, it was hard not to agree that the wrong person had been chosen and that this misjudgment played a major factor in the Republican loss. 

The verdict was clear: Palin, as ambitious as she clearly was, was intellectually and temperamentally unfit to hold office. In hindsight, somebody should have re-considered the selection. As a vice-presidential choice, it was up to McCain and his advisors.
These recriminations after the fact were, however, soon dismissed. Instead of learning, the blame was eventually placed on the crazy Palin, not the process, certainly not the Party. 
*   *   *
In this way, critical lessons were unlearned. It's not just a coincidence that the exactly same mistakes were made in 2016. 

In May, two months before the convention- when there was still time to prevent the train wreck- Bloomberg reported that A.B. Culvahouse Jr., a Washington-based attorney, had a meeting with Donald Trump's aides at Trump Towers. Culvahouse, described as "a longtime Washington fixture" was put in charge of vetting the candidate's vice presidential pick, Governor Mike Pence of Indiana. 
This was precisely the man who organized the vetting process for Republican presidential nominee John McCain in 2008 which ended up approving of Palin.

Back in 2012, in a letter to the Wall Street Journal, Culvahouse defended his vetting of Palin by saying that he  
“believed she had the presence and wherewithal to grow into the position. I summed up her selection as ‘high risk, high reward.’” 
Obviously, the reward would have been victory in the election, but whose risk was Culvahouse referring to- the Republican Party's or the nation's? 

GOP Pence Trump

The Irony of the Vetting Criteria

But there's a significant problem that largely went unnoticed by Republicans. When Culvahouse explained his methodology for vetting, he unintentionally revealed that his criteria for McCain's VP selection was based on an examination of
“tax returns, medical histories, financial statements, court records,” and poses questions about “infidelity, sexual harassment, discrimination, plagiarism, alcohol or drug addiction, delinquent taxes, credit history, and use of government positions or resources for personal benefit.”
That's quite a list. Presumably, the same qualifiers were used in 2016. 
Therein lies a remarkable oversight in the process. While vetting his  running mate, somebody forgot to vet Trump against the same standards. Almost all of these factors remained unresolved in the minds of undecided voters. Trump had some serious flaws with these vetting criteria.

Didn't anybody think that Trump University wouldn't be a problem? Why didn't anybody question how Trump used funds from the Trump Foundation as his own piggy bank? 
There were, in fact, an assortment of problems which were ignored.
  • Infidelity? That was something Trump had publicly boasted about both in the media and in one of his books. 
  • Tax returns and financial statements? Credit history? Trump refused to release the full details. That was something Nixon did to erase all doubt to the American voters that he was "a crook." Trump didn't seem to care what voters thought.
  • Medical histories? Trump had offered only a single page document ("astonishingly excellent") which raised more doubts than it resolved. 
  • Sexual Harassment? Obviously, there was no check here. All it took was a few hours of research, something no Republican could have resisted when it came to the husband of Trump's opponent.  
  • Court records? Unprecedented for any previous presidential candidate, Trump and his businesses have been involved in   at least 3,500 legal actions in federal and state courts during the past three decades.  
So the question- one that the Republican Party cannot answer- is: Why should the vice-presidential candidate be given more vetting than the presidential candidate?
Why didn't anyone in the GOP establishment think it important? How could the Republican National Committee (RNC) have given its stamp of approval to Trump without using the same vetting criteria that Trump's staffers were using for Mike Pence?

The inescapable and shameful conclusion is that they chose to ignore the potential problems. As they explained with the earlier Palin debacle, the risk to the nation was considered worth the reward of the party. It was a gamble that might cost them not only the White House, but control of the Senate, and the ideological majority of the high court. 

As of last weekend, the head of the RNC Reince Priebus was still playing down Trump's claims that the election is rigged against him. It was as hopeless as throwing a bucket of water on a house on fire. 
On Face the Nation last Sunday, Priebus continued to assure the worried GOP establishment that Trump would win the election. Any fears that Trump will not respect the results of the election are unnecessary. (His assurances come at a time when Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump by 5 points.)

So, how could he be so sure  about the results of the election when he has been so wrong about Trump on every other occasion?
“Because I think people have had enough.”
Those are prophetic words he might regret by mid-November.

The Worry that Remained Unspoken

On top of all of the other doubts about Trump's eligibility, there was a darker one that few in the Republican Party wished to even discuss. The question of his sanity.  By August, as Trump's behavior became increasingly bizarre, journalists were starting to seriously ask:
Has the Republican nominee lost his mind?

MSNBC host Joe Scarborough spoke candidly on the matter:
It’s pretty remarkable, I fielded calls all day yesterday from conservatives, from Republicans, from officials, from people that the media would call right-wing bloggers… and everybody was asking me about his mental health.”
Perhaps more importantly, it wasn't just Trump's critics that were worried about the possibility that Trump may have severe psychological problems. By August, even many of his former supporters were starting to pose the question that Republican leaders wouldn't dare to ask.

An article in the UK Guardian asked former Trump supporters their opinions. For the first time, people were starting to ask if Trump was not deranged. One retired biomedical engineer in California:
“Anyone who is willing to put the trigger for America’s nuclear weapons in the hands of someone like this is placing the future of human civilization at risk. I believe we must do anything to prevent Trump from ever reaching the Oval Office. Even if it means voting for Hillary Clinton,”
A former Trump fan.
And another voter who had once supported Trump was privately expressing his second thoughts. This was a member of Trump's ideal demographic- a white retired male. In an interview with assured anonymity- he declared that he no longer backed Trump as the GOP nominee
“[He] seems to be insane. I no longer believe it is possible that he could truly represent the people who support him and need what he promised.”
Because of those qualms, he had decided that he would - with great reluctance, vote for Hillary Clinton and hope that the checks and balances of the US constitution would prevent her from overreach. 
Clearly, this also implies that that particular voter didn't believe that those same checks and balances would deter President Trump.
That former Trump fans now seemed to think, based on what he had seen and heard, that Trump administration would be a lawless one.

Clinton Trump

The Turning Point

For many life-long Republicans, the three debates proved to be the last straw.
Only in a direct comparison of the two candidates was it clear how dysfunctional and immature Trump's behavior actually was. How can issues be discussed intelligently when one participant refuses to act like an adult? 

Up until that time, the excuse was that Trump was simply playing to his audiences (which found him encouraging Russian hackers to steal and leak his opponent's emails, threatening to put her in jail and insinuating that the only way to stop her would be a "second amendment solution"). After the three debates, it was a different story. 

At the end of the first debate, polls showed Trump hadn't done his homework for what was the most important moment of his political life.
"It was obvious he wasn’t prepared,"said one conservative analyst. "He took things a little too personal." said another. Trump blamed a defective microphone and claimed that the moderator had asked “unfair questions.”

Things didn't improve at all at the second debate. The Atlantic Monthly gave this painful summary:
Trump meandered around the stage restlessly, delivered long strings of misleading statements, feuded with the moderators, and promised to prosecute a political rival if he won the race. He openly slapped down his running mate, Mike Pence, over Syria policy, saying,
“He and I haven't spoken and I disagree.” In perhaps the most surreal moment of a surreal evening, moderator Anderson Cooper had to tell a major-party nominee for president, “You bragged that you had sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?”
Following the second debate, there was a backlash of women who claimed that Trump's boast about grabbing women was not just "locker-room" bravado. His poll numbers began to slide.
In the meantime, Trump stepped up his attacks on House Speaker Paul Ryan and the GOP establishment. He was unshackled, he told his supporters and he was ready to take on the party that had foolishly nominated him.

By the third debate came, Trump was having problems focusing on the questions and seemed too preoccupied at personal attacks on Clinton. The pathetic performance was finally capped off with Trump, now practically seething, calling Hillary Clinton "a nasty woman."

Suddenly, voters could see what the Republican leadership refused to face. This man was the wrong man and it should have been obvious from the beginning.

Trump 2016 election

No Excuses

And even then, after all of the warning signs, the majority of Republican leaders stood by timidly and watched as their party collapsed. 
Republican voters had every right to be furious. They've every right ask whether or not their party had a duty- a responsibility- to weed out unfit candidates, such as candidates that bragged about sexual assault, candidates that might be beholden to Vladimir Putin, or candidates that were psychologically impaired.

When faced with the choice, the leaders of the GOP chose their party over the welfare and security of the country and for that, there can be no excuse. 
Be sure, there will be a lot of finger-pointing when the election dust clears. Trump will come under a lot of fire by Republicans as the worst possible candidate. The GOP might even find a way to blame Obama or Hillary. It shouldn't surprise anybody. 
There will be a lot of people in high positions who will claim innocence and declare: "But he fooled us too. We had no idea. He conned us, same as you."

That's become typical of the party that cannot adapt to reality and cannot learn from past errors and misjudgments. And until the leaders of the Republican party are held accountable for their recklessness and cowardice, there will be no respectable opposition party in America.