‘B e not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be,” Thomas à Kempis counseled in “The Imitation of Christ,” his 15th-century book of religious contemplation.
Perhaps GOP leaders can find some solace in his words as they go about the gargantuan effort of trying to mold Donald Trump, their party’s new intellectual and philosophical leader, into the kind of candidate who might actually be able to win the nation’s confidence.
For months now, the GOP elite have been urging Trump to clean up his act.
To change his tone.
To stop his name-calling.
To abandon his race-baiting.
To curtail his sexism.
To act more presidential.
They have, periodically, come away faintly encouraged that he might, possibly, change his ways. I’m told that Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, once felt he had developed a relationship where he could tell Trump to cease and desist. That was said to be Priebus’s message when Trump was busy attacking the Indiana-born judge presiding over the Trump University case, claiming he had a conflict of interest because he was “Mexican.”
Trump ended those attacks — but only to move on to other things. Sometimes there’s a day or two of good behavior, but the GOP simply can’t stop Trump from being Trump. He inevitably reverts to form. That is, back to being a blustering, self-aggrandizing, truth-twisting, name-calling, character-assassinating, conspiracy-theory-trafficking demagogue.
That, of course, worked for him in the primary campaign, which tells one a lot about the modern Republican Party. One school of thought is that, given his nominating-season success, Trump is intentionally rejecting advice to change course.
But the evidence is growing that Trump, as Thomas would have it, couldn’t change if he wanted to. This is who he is. The behavior you see in Candidate Trump is what you’d get in President Trump.
Certainly in response to the Orlando massacre, Trump has sounded positively pixilated. In New Hampshire on Monday, he made the stunning charge that Hillary Clinton wants to end the Second Amendment, confiscate the guns of Americans, and “then admit [into the country] the very people who want to slaughter us.” One assumes Trump doesn’t really believe that, and has simply chosen to engage in hugely irresponsible hyperbole, though it’s hard to be confident of that.
Those comments followed his earlier insinuation that President Obama secretly might not want to stop terrorism by Islamist extremists. By mid-week, Trump was back flogging that theme. The right-wing polemical operation Breitbart posted a convoluted story that misinterpreted a memo to suggest that the Obama administration had supported a Syrian opposition faction that later morphed into ISIS. Trump then tweeted that story as support for his insidious suggestion that Obama sympathizes with ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks in this country.
This is either cross-eyed conspiracy-theory crazy or cynicism of the most despicable kind. But it should come as no surprise, not to anyone who followed the absurd birther quest Trump undertook against President Obama in 2011.
So here’s where the GOP finds itself.
Trump is not a civil or responsible or decent or self-disciplined politician. He will not become one. If one takes his statements at face value, he doesn’t have the habits of mind necessary to assess complex situations in an intelligent way.
But regardless of whether he’s immensely cynical or somewhat off his beam, his many campaign controversies can no longer be seen as mistakes, missteps, or gaffes. They reflect the real Donald Trump. That’s the reality Republicans must confront.
Simply put, they are about to nominate a political wrecking ball, a wrecking ball that, to nick a line from Boston-area chanteuse Carla Ryder, is spinning to crazy.
And careening back toward the party itself.