Men are bawling. Women shake their heads in cowed disbelief. They peek through clenched fingers, afraid to cast their eyes upon the creature threatening to devour them.
Super Tuesday is done and so, it would seem, is any recognizable semblance of the Republican Party. The GOP is unraveling like a cheap suit, and we’re well into the part of the horror story where gobsmacked conservatives try to destroy the monster they’ve created — Donald Trump, the candidate of white supremacists, NASCAR, and the occasional New Jersey governor, Chris Christie.
The GOP presidential campaign is playing out like Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” Instead of pitchforks and torches, Republicans have Mitt Romney, rising like the Ghost of Failed Presidential Campaigns Past, hinting of a “bombshell” in Trump’s not-yet-released tax returns. There’s Senator Marco Rubio, with all the comportment this campaign deserves, making locker-room cracks about various Trump body parts. There’s even a trending Twitter hashtag, #NeverTrump.
Trump is the clear GOP front-runner, and his own party is going after him like a pack of wild dogs.
In the midst of all this plotting and teeth gnashing, the GOP is behaving as if Trump crashed through its front door, soiled the couches, and smashed the good china. Republicans forget they’ve spent nearly the last decade coarsening political debate and appealing to its base through their own base instincts and obsessions. So who is House Speaker Paul Ryan kidding when he says, “If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party, there can be no evasion and no games. They must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry. This party does not prey on people’s prejudices. We appeal to their highest ideals. This is the party of Lincoln.”
Where was the outrage from Ryan and his party when Trump, on the day he declared his candidacy, demonized Mexicans as “rapists,” and, months later, threatened to ban Muslims from entering this country? For a group that loves to evoke the name of Abraham Lincoln, this GOP generation is more about summoning its darker forces than its better angels.
Any Republican surprised by Trump’s success is either delusional or a revisionist. Trump is the destructive spawn of its own bigotry, anti-intellectualism, and puerile political pouting. What began as a malicious scheme to derail from day one the presidency of Barack Obama has mushroomed into a party front-runner whose caustic joke of a campaign isn’t funny anymore. Trump can’t race toward the bottom; he has no bottom. He’s taken his party’s nasty politics from a dog whistle to a scream, plunging to levels that would make former presidential candidates Strom Thurmond and George Wallace flinch.
That’s why Republicans are in a tizzy. Not for one minute does the mainstream GOP believe Trump, with his gleeful mendacity and immunity to facts, can win in November. They stare in terror as Trump racks up caucus and primary victories from Nevada to Massachusetts, upending their fading dreams of reclaiming the White House. Even Senator Lindsey Graham, who once compared picking either Trump or Senator Ted Cruz as the GOP nominee to choosing between being “shot or poisoned,” now says Cruz may be the Republicans’ last, best hope for stopping Trump. And remember, nobody likes Cruz except maybe his mother, though if those awkward mother-son moments in his campaign videos are any indication, she could be jivin’ too.
“Shot or poisoned.” This is where unrestrained spite, avarice, and intolerance have brought the GOP. Forget the White House; the party is fighting to survive, and its most feral enemy is itself. Republicans have made their bed. Now they can only hope that Trump, the creature they created, doesn’t smother them in it.
Renée Graham writes regularly for the Globe. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.