It’s time for Republican elected officials to show their cards. Will they support Donald Trump if he’s the party’s nominee in November, or not?
Up until now, many GOP leaders have declined to discuss hypotheticals. But Trump is no longer looking very hypothetical. His sweeping victories in Republican caucuses and primaries on Tuesday — the businessman appears headed for a resounding victory, including in Massachusetts — mean he is looking like the party’s presumptive nominee and enjoys wide grass-roots support.
For GOP elected officials to say nothing now amounts to tacit support for a candidate who has called Mexicans rapists, mocked the disabled, and made coy overtures to white supremacists, all while offering no substantive platform.
Yet as the dust settles, some Republicans were still in the throes of denial, holding on to dreams of a Hail Mary pass that saves Marco Rubio or John Kasich, or devising brokered-convention strategies that could still thwart Trump’s surging candidacy. It’d be nice if any of those scenarios seemed realistic. But in all likelihood, Republicans dithered too long to stop Trump within the Republican Party’s own nominating process, which was designed to produce a nominee quickly.
What still is very possible, though, is defeating Trump in November. If Republican grandees like Mitt Romney really believe that Trump is as unqualified as they’ve been saying, they need to make it clear they won’t support him in the general election. That would take a decisive show of spine, and a willingness to put country above party, that hasn’t been much in evidence so far.
It does not mean Republicans must endorse former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who emerged Tuesday as the all-but-certain Democratic nominee (though that certainly is one option). Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska has shown rare courage among GOP officials, declaring he will never vote for Trump and would instead support a third-party candidate.
Some GOP donors, according to reports, have been exploring the possibility of backing a yet-to-be-named independent candidate. To get a candidate on the ballot in all 50 states, a third-party effort would need to start right away. Elected GOP officials would have to abandon Trump quickly, and publicly, for that option to have enough time and attention to succeed.
Opponents of Trump launched a hashtag campaign, #nevertrump, that now includes former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman. It’s a little late —
Much ink can, and no doubt will, be spent diagnosing how the Republican Party came to this sad juncture. But the immediate question before Republican officials is whether to accept Trump — and all he stands for — or disavow him. There’s only one right answer.