Dear GOP: Dump Trump
When it first began, Donald Trump's presidential campaign seemed like a joke. It is fast becoming a menace: He is the closest thing the U.S. has seen to a genuine fascist in generations.
True, a decade ago posters depicting George W. Bush as Hitler were popular among the liberal proletariat, and essays such as Naomi Wolf's "Fascist America in 10 Easy Steps" were popular among the liberal intelligentsia. But those silly, supercilious comparisons cheapened the coin of fascism; they were little more than primal-scream therapy for the petulant left. As soon as a Democrat reclaimed the Oval Office, liberals regained their love affair with unbridled power.
Trump is something else again—and it is remarkable how many of the touchstones of fascism the Trump phenomenon embraces.
- It is, to begin with, a cult of personality built around the Strong Man. When asked how he will achieve what he promises, Trump's primary answer is that, well, he is Donald Trump: a "really smart person" and a "great manager" who "beats China all the time"; who has "millions of followers"; who will flat-out dictate oil prices to OPEC ("we have nobody in Washington that sits back and said, 'you're not going to raise that f***ing price' "); who "will be the greatest jobs president God ever created" because he is not a "loser" or a "moron" like the rest of you; etc. etc. Trump does not have plans; he is the plan.
- The Trump movement has no coherent political philosophy behind it, unlike Ronald Reagan's ascent. Trump says Obamacare is a disaster that must be repealed—but thinks socialized medicine works "incredibly well"; he likes free trade in theory, but detests it in practice. And so on. Take Reagan away and you still would have had a thriving conservative movement that could trace its lineage through Barry Goldwater and National Review back to Russell Kirk and Edmund Burke. Take Trump away and you have a deracinated rabble.
- It is not merely nationalist—"Make America Great Again"—but puerile and jingoistic. Trump obsesses over the Yellow Peril—China— and the Muslim Peril, too. He promises to "bomb the s**t" out of the Islamic State and "knock the hell out of them" and even "take out their families." He favors torture "even if it doesn't work."
- It is virulently bigoted against minority groups, chiefly Latinos (Trump will somehow make them build a giant wall to keep themselves out, because they are criminals and rapists) and Muslims (six days ago he proposed banning all Muslim entry into the U.S.). At times, Trump can sound eerily like a white supremacist.
- It seeks to deploy the tools of the surveillance state against perceived internal enemies: Trump favors making e-Verify a mandatory national program all workers and employers would have to submit to; he has signified his openness to making Muslims register with the government and even suggested shutting down mosques.
- It favors rule by fiat: Trump says that he would simply "break" the North American Free Trade Agreement and that he would impose a "pause" during which employers "will have to hire" from the domestic labor pool; talk-show host Michael Savage says America should "let him rule by decree and let him straighten the country out."
- It inclines toward thuggery. Trump has had a reporter escorted out of a press conference, mocked another reporter's disability and suggested that maybe a protester "should have been roughed up." He routinely hurls personal insults at women, political opponents, reporters, and anyone else who touches off his hair-trigger temper. He thinks eminent domain—government confiscation of private property—is "wonderful," and once even tried to wield it against an elderly widow so he could build a parking lot for limousines. Trump uses a lot of tough-guy bluster about taking on entire nations—yet he usually punches down, not up.
Others have noted more parallels, but space here is finite, and the foregoing ought to suffice. Trump is a problem—though primarily for the Republican Party, at least for now. The party needs to ensure he does not become everyone's problem—and the only way to do that is to abjure him, totally and utterly. So far party leaders have failed to do so. Some—such as Karl Rove, Rand Paul and Mitt Romney—even have said that they will support the Republican nominee, no matter who it is.
That would be a mistake. Trump is utterly unqualified for public office, and he represents everything the Republican Party ought to stand against. It is time for responsible Republicans to declare that they will have no part of his candidacy and that they will not support it financially, vocally, or electorally.
Yes, that would be a great trial for the party — but it would be a great favor to the country. And it would demonstrate what everyone hopes is true: that members of the GOP are Republicans second, but Americans first.
This column originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.