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The GOP’s crisis

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Political parties have been around since politics emerged from the stranglehold of the strongest and extended out to even the most limited of franchises.

“Parties” existed even within the courts of absolute kings. “Factions” are how Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay referred to them in “The Federalist Papers,” and they appeared on American soil in something like their modern form almost as soon as the Constitution in which they went unremarked upon was ratified and Hamilton and Madison, the two greatest contributors to the framing, went their separate ways over the great issues of their day.

One of the greatest British statesmen of the 19th Century, Benjamin Disraeli, spoke and wrote of the enormous good and great necessity of parties and of party loyalty. So did Winston Churchill in the last century, though he “crossed the line” twice, first leaving the Tories for the Liberals in 1904 and then the Liberals for the Tories two decades later. (“Anyone can rat,” he quipped, “but it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat.”)

In this country, the Republican Party, the “Party of Lincoln,” has been my home my entire adult life. I put God and country before party, but the GOP has done much more good than harm over the 40 years I’ve been involved in politics, and the Democratic Party much more harm than good over this stretch from 1976 to the present that it has always been easy to support the GOP nominee for every federal and state office.

Thus I was for Gerald Ford from the start in my first election — he was a good president and a good man and I worked for him against Ronald Reagan in the primaries of 1976 — and for every subsequent GOP nominee. I’ve never voted for a Democrat in a general election, and I have considered every race on the merits. When “my guys” — Lamar Alexander in 1996 and Mitt Romney in 2008 — lost, I worked for the nominees who had bested them: Bob Dole and John MCain.

That’s how parties work. You can chose your party, but parties collectively chose nominees. Breaking from them breaks the party in ways small and large, and parties govern, not individuals. Thus my rejection of #NeverTrump from its inception. My #NeverTrump friends never intended to injure the Republican Party but to save it, and we have years ahead to argue whether they were right or not. It matters not at this point for this election.

Trump was never more than a Republican by convenience. He was never more than a Democrat by convenience either. GOP party rules allowed for his run. He ran. He won. Whatever you think of the rules, he played by them and won a majority of delegates.

His winning the general election would be better than Secretary Hillary Clinton because of justices, judges and the 3,000 political appointees to high office he would bring with him. Trump would also rebuild the military, and of course he would toss the Democrats out of those offices and keep Secretary Clinton from the Oval Office.

Those would be very good ends in themselves because the Democratic Party has become detached from the Constitution and from vigilance when it comes to the national defense. The election of Hillary Clinton will mean profound threats to both and especially to the religious liberties of men and women of faith in this country which are presently protected by the Free Exercise Clause.

I have written here at length about what her appointees will mean for the Supreme Court. I cannot vote for her. I will not vote for her.

I did not and could not pick a candidate to support in the Republican primaries as I was asked and glad to agree to be a fair questioner of all would-be GOP nominees in four GOP primary debates put on by CNN and my radio network, Salem Media. I interviewed all the candidates on my radio show — more than 170 times! — and had each interview transcribed and posted. I stayed neutral until Trump won the nomination and then pledged to support him, and began to try my best to persuade my audiences on the radio, in print and on NBC and MSNBC that electing him president would be the better of the two viable candidates.

“It is a binary choice” is now a cliche but it is also true. Either Trump or Clinton would be president. I often debated #NeverTrump folk on the wisdom of doing more than not voting for her by adding their vote to his total.

When Trump mired himself in attacks on Judge Curiel, I urged the party to revisit its choice if he did not abandon his reckless rhetoric regarding the judge’s ethnicity and the impact of ethnicity on the ability of a judge to rule on a case. The Party of Lincoln has no home for racist rhetoric, and while I don’t believe Trump is a racist, his indifference to the language of race at that time was so far over the line that it seemed to reveal him as a racist and threatened the entire party as a result.

Trump listened and learned from his advisors. He stopped his attacks on the judge and I stopped my attacks on his nomination.

His many missteps seemed to me to be first-time candidate pratfalls, a big developer’s bravado and a billionaire’s brashness combined with an amateur’s foolishness about presidential campaigns. After his collision with the Kahn family and the sacrifice of Captain Kahn, his candidacy seemed doomed.

But so profound is the distrust of Secretary Clinton, and so richly deserved, that he fought his way back into contention with a series of speeches and interviews and by her many missteps as well. I was happy to have him back on my program.

The first debate wasn’t very good for him, but neither was it lethal to his candidacy. He could still win, I thought, and save the Supreme Court and rebuild the military. He was not hurting the down ticket and thus the GOP would remain in control of the House and Senate.

I likened Gov. Mike Pence’s superb debate against Sen. Tim Kaine to an interception at the two with a return to the 10, with a quarter left and a two-touchdown deficit to overcome. Hard, that, but not impossible. Trump would have to score, I said, on Sunday night.

Instead, the tape. And more. And more to come if rumor and experience are true. (Campaigns save their best “opposition research” — damaging negative stories — for late in October or early November and many have left hints that all Clinton barrels are loaded.)

Because I was on a red eye to Bakersfield, Calif., from Philadelphia when David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post broke the story and thus saw both it and Mr. Trump’s apology after midnight, I slept on it all. I won’t join in defining deviancy down and describe the conversation as other than disgusting. Upon consideration on Saturday morning, I concluded simply that he cannot win, that he is damaging the party at every level (and his family and himself) and that he should withdraw.

I have no illusion of influence over the nominee or his advisors. It’s just my opinion. I hope airing it will encourage Republicans running for re-election to the Senate and the House to speak clearly about the nature of the remarks and that their voters will understand how desperately we need a GOP Senate and House majority in light of the likelihood of Secretary Clinton’s election.

A Republican nominee could still win if Trump withdrew. His business and his family would be spared another month of battering, and the historians would have something good to say about his self-sacrifice. As of Saturday night, he has rejected the advice of scores if not hundreds of elected and appointed officials. The only good news is that the Party of Lincoln can buttress itself with arguments on why the Senate and House majorities are so crucial given the uncertain path ahead.

The party chairman Reince Priebus and the party apparatus have administered the rules fairly. Trump won the nomination and it cannot be stripped from him by any means as it could have been after the primaries but before the nomination, and as it would have been had this tape surfaced before Cleveland. (Nice work, that “leaker.” Oh how the MSM has worked overtime for Secretary Clinton in ways obvious and crude and also very subtle.)

But Mr. Trump can lay the nomination down. It is in the interests of the country, the party, his family and himself that he do so.

Whatever happens, the GOP remains the party of the Constitution and of freedom. Genuine human progress — the incremental expansion of liberty and literacy in a growing number of stable regimes across the globe — is still best-served by Republicans in the offices of temporary authority the Constitution established. That hasn’t changed over the weekend and it won’t change whatever the result in November.

If Secretary Clinton wins and the Supreme Court lurches to the hard, anti-freedom Left and into the service of the vast administrative state that ideology demands — as it will if she wins — the GOP will have to move quickly. It will have to take up all constitutional means to stop it and her from the many harms they will inflict, and to keep the American military funded and thus the country protected.

It’s a bad dream for Republicans. A nightmare in fact. But it will be over if not this week then next month. And the party will hopefully keep its majorities and keep up the good fight.


This column was originally posted on


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