It has been six months since Donald Trump rode his surreal Trump Tower escalator down down down to announce he was running for president to a likely hired audience. Most people assumed it was be a joke and he’d flame out quickly. Late-night comedians rejoiced. Nobody, least of all the Republican establishment, seemed particularly worried that this was a reality-based campaign.
Now everybody is pretty worried. After numerous announcements of his imminent demise as the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, the Donald remains firmly on top of the polls. Every controversy, every a**hole comment seems to make him stronger. People are taking him a lot more seriously. The Huffington Post removed him from the entertainment page and put him back in politics, though comedians and other cultural figures continue to crack wise. J.K. Rowling has suggested that Voldemort comes out on top compared to Trump, and real-life Voldemort Dick Cheney has said Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim immigrants goes too far.
Most of his opponents, except for rising-in-the-polls Ted Cruz and no-longer-relevant Ben Carson, have denounced his extremism. Establishment figures like Paul Ryan, Lindsey Graham, Karl Rove, Jeb Bush and party leaders have hastened to express their dismay, though Ryan still says he’d support the blatant Islamophobe if he wins the party nomination. The Republican Party, failing to recognize or acknowledge that it might have any part in creating and enabling the rise of the Trump monster, is showing signs of the kind of full-scale freakout that often accompanies extreme forms of denial. This probably has more to do with the realization that Trump may really guarantee the party's loss in the general election rather than any bonafide moral objections to what he says. The thin-skinned mogul’s tweet that he might just run as an Independent if Republicans are going to be so mean to him only intensified the panic.
Here are seven examples of a party in chaos and denial since Trump's announcement Monday.
1. Jeb Bush is the frontrunner in freaking out.
Still in a state of shock that the nomination he was so sure would be handed to him is not materializing, the feckless Bush is scrambling for an explanation. On Monday he tweeted, “Donald Trump is unhinged. His ‘policy’ proposals are not serious,” in response to Trump’s proposed Muslim ban. But how different are Trump’s ideas from Bush’s? Just a few weeks ago, Bush suggested a religious test for Syrian refugees and that we only let Christians into the U.S. Was that a serious policy proposal? And both of these deep thinkers have similar ideas for how our crackerjack border agents would determine if people were Muslim, Christian or some other religion. They’d ask, “Are you a Muslim?” Trump thoughtfully explained to an inquiring reporter.
Bush’s apoplexy only increased to fever pitch when Trump tweeted about reconsidering a run as an Independent. In a tweet Bush floated the idea that there is a vast Trump/Clinton conspiracy that’s all about handing the White House to Hillary. “Maybe Donald negotiated a deal with his buddy @HillaryClinton,” Jeb Bush tweeted. “Continuing this path will put her in the White House.”
Works like a charm. When all else fails, float a conspiracy theory involving that evil witch Clinton. Because that’s what responsible political leaders do.
2. Dick Cheney sees threat to his title of most evil living Republican.
Not so long ago, Dick Cheney’s supremacy as the most evil Republican was unchallenged, except perhaps by Donald Rumsfeld. And just a few short weeks ago, his anti-Clinton zeal was such that he pledged to support the Republican nominee no matter what, even if it was Mr. Trump, whom many Republicans have accused of being insufficiently conservative. But Monday, it looked like Cheney might have to walk that back when he said, "This whole notion that we can somehow ban all Muslims...goes against everything we stand for and believe in."
Hmmm, going too far for Cheney, the man who manipulated us into invading Iraq under false pretenses of fictitious weapons of mass destruction, enriching himself and his Halliburton friends in the process, thinks Trump has gone too far. What a concept.
He did stop short of saying he would withhold support for a candidate Trump in a race against Clinton, or in fact any Democrat.
3. Karl Rove says Trump won’t be the nominee, and he’s never ever wrong.
Last Summer Karl Rove received warm applause from the American Legion Boys State meeting when he called Donald Trump a “compete idiot” who was “unlikely to break through.”
In return, Trump has called Rove a “totally incompetent jerk,” and a “biased dope,” and it’s hard to disagree with that.
Obviously, all this name-calling from the top of the party is really having an effect. The former quintessence of the Republican establishment is devoting as much time as he can to taking Trump down, digging into history to find examples and finding one he thinks works in the 1896 election of William McKinley.
Recently asked by New York magazine why the Republican establishment is having so much trouble taking on Trump, Rove had a bulletproof plan.
"I don’t think the issue is taking on Trump. The issue is consolidating the parts of the party that are becoming increasingly resistant to Trump. What we’ve got are a bunch of people crowding each other saying, 'I’m not him,' and what will be interesting to watch is to see how they consolidate or if they do consolidate around someone. My sense is they probably will."
On CNN this Sunday, Rove doubled down and recited a long list of reasons why he still thinks Trump will not be the nominee: highest negative ratings of any 2016 candidate, attacks on Latinos and a disabled reporter, calling all of his competitors "a clown, a loser and a moron." Sticking tohis someone else will get it theme, he said, "You can't win the nomination by saying anybodyelse who's running against me is a jerk and still win their supporters."
4. Paul Ryan, who is very fit, wants to have his cake and eat it too. It's okay, he'll work it off.
Showing the leadership skills that elevated him to the coveted position of Speaker of the House that no one else would take, Paul Ryan said of Trump’s Muslim ban idea, “This is not conservatism."
Banning members of one religion from the U.S., he continued is “not what this party stands for.” Still unclear is why Ben Carson’s statement that a Muslim should not be allowed to be president or Jeb Bush’s suggestion that only Christians be allowed in did not elicit similarly strongly worded condemnations. About Trump, Ryan continued portentously: “More importantly, it’s not what this country stands for.”
But there is a limit to what Ryan thinks is unacceptable and un-American. Asked if he would back Trump if he wins the nomination, Ryan went straight back into party faithful mode, principles be damned. "I’m going to support whomever the Republican nominee is,” he said. “I'm going to stand up for what I believe as I do that."
5. Lindsey Graham says Trump should be forced to emigrate somewhere very warm with no religious test.
The largely irrelevant presidential contender said Monday: “What has been in the past absurd and hateful has turned dangerous.”
He told the Guardian, “Donald Trump today took xenophobia and religious bigotry to a new level.”
Yeah, we were comfortable with his previous level of xenophobia and bigotry, but not now.
Graham does not have a lot to lose, but he was probably proud of himself when he came up with his own Bible-thumping-type zinger. “If you want to make America great again,” he said, referring to the Donald’s campaign slogan, “tell Donald Trump to go to hell.”
6. Carly Fiorina makes sure to have it both ways.
Fiorina manages to be hateful even when she is supposedly confronting hate. “Trump’s over-reaction is as bad as Obama’s under-reaction,” she pronounced ickily.
And no it isn’t. Trump and Obama’s reactions do not even occupy the same universe.
7. RNC chair Reince Priebus: HEEEEEELP!
Priebus basically has no idea what to do about the Trump effect. He just knows it isn’t good for his peeps.
"I don't agree," Priebus said when asked what he thought of Trump’s proposal to ban all Muslims. "We need to aggressively take on radical Islamic terrorism but not at the expense of our American values."
Beyond that, like what it means for his party if Trump is the nominee, he’s just in quiet freakout mode. “That’s as far as I’m going to go,” he said of his carefully crafted previous statement. But he is really really excited about next week’s debate!
Republican leaders seem to be dealing with the fact that there might not be a magic bullet to destroy this monster of their own making, who has thus far failed to self-destruct. And that is scary!