What took the Repub­li­cans so long?

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - Cokie and Steve Roberts Colum­nists Steve and Cokie Roberts can be con­tacted by email at steve­cokie@gmail.com.

Since a video sur­faced re­veal­ing Don­ald Trump’s de­mean­ing and de­spi­ca­ble at­ti­tudes to­ward women, a raft of Repub­li­cans have aban­doned their own nom­i­nee. Even Speaker Paul Ryan, a pro­file in cow­ardice this whole cam­paign, said he would no longer de­fend Trump or cam­paign with him -- although he did not re­scind his for­mal en­dorse­ment.

Trump in­sisted in a video mes­sage that the tape gave a false im­pres­sion of his char­ac­ter: “Any­one who knows me knows these words don’t re­flect who I am.”

Hil­lary Clin­ton, dur­ing her re­cent de­bate with Trump, re­but­ted that as­ser­tion: “He says the video doesn’t rep­re­sent who he is. But I think it’s clear to any­one who heard it that it rep­re­sents ex­actly who he is.”

Ex­actly right. There is no New Trump. There is no Trump 2.0. There is only one Trump, The Don­ald, the man on the tape who mocks and men­aces just about any­one who crosses him. Not just women, but im­mi­grants, Mus­lims, per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties, war he­roes, even fel­low Repub­li­cans. Re­mem­ber “Lyin’ Ted” and “Lit­tle Marco”?

What is truly as­tound­ing is how many Repub­li­cans chose to ig­nore this to­tally ob­vi­ous char­ac­ter flaw -- and still do. When he an­nounced his can­di­dacy 16 months ago, Trump de­rided im­mi­grants from Mex­ico this way: “They’re send­ing peo­ple that have lots of prob­lems, and they’re bring­ing those prob­lems with us. They’re bring­ing drugs. They’re bring­ing crime. They’re rapists.”

That tirade, just like the newly re­leased tape, “rep­re­sents ex­actly who he is.” And yet with a few brave ex­cep­tions -- Mitt Rom­ney, the Bushes -- Repub­li­can lead­ers buried their heads, and just about ev­ery other body part, deeply in the sand.

They of­fered all sorts of ra­tio­nal­iza­tions for their self-delu­sion: Trump won the nom­i­na­tion fair and square. We can­not alien­ate his vot­ers. If he wins, we can con­trol him. And the worst ra­tio­nal­iza­tion of all: Any­body is bet­ter than Hil­lary.

Those ar­gu­ments have all col­lapsed. As Clin­ton opened a steady lead in the polls -- up to 6 points in the RealClearPol­i­tics av­er­age, which is large, but not un­beat­able -- Repub­li­cans leapt for the lifeboats. Trump de­nounced the de­fec­tors as “so many self-right­eous hyp­ocrites,” and he has a point.

They were hyp­ocrites to sup­port him in the first place. They knew what he was like. They knew he was not re­motely qual­i­fied. And they have only them­selves to blame for the dis­as­ter, to use one of Trump’s fa­vorite words, now en­velop­ing their party.

In a cu­ri­ous way, Trump’s rea­son­ably ef­fec­tive per­for­mance in the sec­ond de­bate could ac­tu­ally hurt the Repub­li­can Party. It’s now harder for down-bal­lot can­di­dates to Dump Trump with­out risk­ing the wrath of his sup­port­ers.

After huge Repub­li­can vic­to­ries in 1972 and 1980, plenty of obit­u­ar­ies were writ­ten for the Demo­cratic Party. And they have won the pop­u­lar vote in five of the last six elec­tions.

But for the Repub­li­can Party to re­bound, they have to learn the les­son of 2016. Trump re­versed a lot of po­lit­i­cal rules, but he didn’t re­peal all of them. Politics is, and al­ways has been, about ad­di­tion rather than sub­trac­tion. You have to add vot­ers, build coali­tions, reach beyond your base. And you do that by nom­i­nat­ing a can­di­date who is ac­tu­ally qual­i­fied for the of­fice.

Don­ald Trump did none of that. He nar­rowed the party base, alien­ated po­ten­tial al­lies, es­pe­cially women, and demon­strated -- over and over again -- that he should never be pres­i­dent.

Why did so many Repub­li­cans take so long to fig­ure that out?

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