Repub­li­cans: Save your party, don’t give to Trump

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - Ge­orge Will

”There’s an old adage about a vat of wine stand­ing next to a vat of sewage. Add a cup of wine to the sewage, and it is still sewage. But add a cup of sewage to the wine, and it is no longer wine but sewage. Is this what Don­ald Trump has done to our pol­i­tics?” — Martha Bayles, in the Clare­mont Re­view of Books — Yes, as Repub­li­cans should re­mem­ber when their con­ven­tion opens in less than a month, on the one-year an­niver­sary of Don­ald Trump’s dis­par­age­ment of John McCain as un­heroic be­cause he was “cap­tured.” McCain was cap­tured (with a bro­ken leg and two bro­ken arms) when North Viet­namese shot down his plane. He

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chose ex­tra years of tor­ture, re­fus­ing to leave when his tor­tur­ers wanted to re­lease him be­cause he was an admiral’s son.

Trump says, how­ever, that he, too, has been “very brave” by ig­nor­ing the dan­ger of vene­real dis­ease dur­ing his sex­ual ad­ven­tures: “It is a dan­ger­ous world out there — it’s scary, like Viet­nam. Sort of like the Viet­nam era. It is my per­sonal Viet­nam, I feel like a great and very brave sol­dier.” He was se­ri­ous; irony is not in this nar­cis­sist’s reper­toire. And there is a rea­son why Bri­tain’s staid Econ­o­mist magazine refers to Trump’s “look of a roue gone to seed.”

“Ev­ery repub­lic,” writes Charles Kesler, pro­fes­sor of gov­ern­ment at Clare­mont McKenna Col­lege, “even­tu­ally faces what might be called the Weimar prob­lem.” It ar­rives when a nation’s civic cul­ture has be­come so de­based that the nation no longer has “the virtues nec­es­sary to sus­tain repub­li­can gov­ern­ment.” Do not dwell on what came af­ter the Weimar repub­lic. But do consider the suf­fi­ciency of virtue that the Con­sti­tu­tion’s Framers pre­sup­posed.

Kesler re­calls that James Madi­son’s notes on the Con­sti­tu­tional Con­ven­tion con­tain this from the July 17, 1787, de­bate on the pro­posal to have pres­i­dents cho­sen by Congress: Rather than mak­ing the pres­i­dent a “crea­ture of the leg­is­la­ture,” Gou­verneur Mor­ris fa­vored elec­tion by the peo­ple. Re­ject­ing the crit­i­cism that the peo­ple will be “un­in­formed,” he said: “They will never fail to pre­fer some man of dis­tin­guished char­ac­ter or ser­vices; some man ... of con­ti­nen­tal rep­u­ta­tion.”

In Trump, Repub­li­cans have some­one whose rep­u­ta­tion is con­ti­nen­tal only in be­ing broadly known. He il­lus­trates Daniel Boorstin’s def­i­ni­tion of a celebrity as some­one well-known for his well-known­ness. It will be won­der­ful if Trump tries to trans­late no­to­ri­ety into ful­fill­ment of his vow — as care­fully con­sid­ered as any­thing else about his can­di­dacy — to carry New York and Cal­i­for­nia. He should be taunted into putting his mea­ger cam­paign funds where his am­ple mouth is. Ev­ery dime or day he squan­ders on those states will con­trib­ute to a re­demp­tive out­come, a de­feat so hu­mil­i­at­ing — so con­ti­nen­tal — that even Repub­li­cans will be ed­i­fied by it.

Trump’s cam­paign has less cash ($1.3 mil­lion) than some con­gres­sional can­di­dates have, so Repub­li­can donors have never been more im­por­tant than they are at this mo­ment. They can save their party by not aid­ing its nom­i­nee.

Events al­ready have called his bluff about fund­ing him­self and thereby be­ing uniquely his own man. His wealth is in­suf­fi­cient. Only he knows what he is hid­ing by be­ing the first pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee in two gen­er­a­tions not to re­lease his tax re­turns. It is rea­son­able to as­sume that the re­turns would re­fute many of his as­ser­tions about his net worth, his char­i­ta­ble­ness and his sup­posed busi­ness wiz­ardry. They might also re­veal some awk­wardly small tax pay­ments.

If his fear of spec­u­la­tion about his se­crecy be­comes greater than his fear of em­bar­rass­ment from what he is be­ing se­cre­tive about, he will re­lease the re­turns. He should at­tach to them a copy of his Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia tran­script, to con­firm his claim that he got the “high­est grades pos­si­ble.” There are skep­tics.

Var­i­ous Repub­li­can moral con­tor­tion­ists con­tinue their se­man­tic som­er­saults about “sup­port­ing” but not “en­dors­ing” Trump. In Cleve­land, they will point him to­ward the high­est elec­tive of­fice in a coun­try they pro­fess to love but that he calls “a hell­hole.” When asked in a 1990 Play­boy in­ter­view about his his­tor­i­cal role mod­els, he mentioned Win­ston Churchill but en­thused about others who led “the ul­ti­mate life”:

“I’ve al­ways thought that Louis B. Mayer led the ul­ti­mate life, that Flo Ziegfeld led the ul­ti­mate life, that men like Dar­ryl Zanuck and Harry Cohn did some cre­ative and beautiful things. The ul­ti­mate job for me would have been run­ning MGM in the ‘30s and ‘40s — pre-tele­vi­sion.” Yes, that job, not the one he seeks.

Ge­orge Will is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at georgewill@wash­post.com.

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