The GOP's spineless Trump appeasement: How a tough-talking party showed its cowardly true colors

In a field of candidates who "shoot from the hip," you would expect to find someone who'd stand up to Trump

By Heather Digby Parton


Published December 23, 2015 1:01PM (EST)

Donald Trump (AP/Nati Harnik)
Donald Trump (AP/Nati Harnik)

If there's one thing we have learned from the past few GOP debates it's that the Republican candidates, all of them, are muy macho. To listen to them go on, they will all defeat both Hillary Clinton and ISIS terrorists with their bare hands while vanquishing all vestiges of the weak political establishment in Washington whether it be Democratic or Republican. They will brook no interference from any lily-livered media or half baked academic intellectuals, they are men and women of action, leaders of legions whose instincts and reflexes are well-honed by years of experience.

One might find this curious considering that most of them have never put anything on the line but their reputations, but nobody said that kissing the rings of billionaires didn't take a tremendous amount of courage. These people bravely march into belly of the moneyed beast without a thought for their own integrity. It's not easy.

It goes without saying that the political colossus who sets the bar for manly virtues is Donald Trump the fearless warrior against political correctness, female reporters and ISIS. Now it is true that he never made it to the military, but as Ann Coulter breathlessly declared in Chris Matthews' documentary "Citizen Trump," being sent to military boarding school for punching a music teacher proves that he's an "alpha male".(You know who else was sent away to school for assaulting a teacher, don't you?) Trump has said that his expensive military prep school gave him "more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military." (Even though he was perfect draftable age for the Vietnam war he had many deferments and bone spurs in one of his feet  -- he can't recall which one --that prevented him from joining up and taking his obviously yuuuuge leadership qualities to the battlefield in Southeast Asia.)

It is against that high bar that all the other allegedly virile 2016 contenders must be measured. These mighty conservative heroes shake their fists at ISIS, declare WWIII, threaten to punch Putin in the nose and call Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders weak old women. But they just can't get it up to take on Donald Trump. In that regard, he's done something very useful, he's shown the Republican voters just what a bunch of craven invertebrates these GOP candidates really are.

Take Chris Christie, the self-appointed New Jersey tough guy, known for browbeating teachers and telling his constituents to sit down and shut up. One would not expect Christie to take on Trump for his mistreatment of women or vulgar commentary on the trail since he has his own history in that area but when Trump made his infamous assertion that thousands of Muslims had danced for joy on New Jersey rooftops, Christie boldly raced into the breach to defend his home state by saying, "I think if it had happened, I would remember it, but, you know, there could be things I forget, too."

He has since admitted that it didn't happen. When nobody was paying any attention. He explained that he was very emotional on 9/11, all at sixes and sevens and it just took him a while to pull himself together to remember that there weren't thousands of Muslims dancing on rooftops that day. Very brave.

But nobody has shown less spine than poor Jeb Bush who has been the object of Trump's puerile insults for weeks and has been unable to respond with anything more assertive than "Donald Trump is a jerk" and "you're not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency." But he keeps flailing about ineffectually anyway. He says Trump isn't serious and says he would have a "chaos presidency." Trump responds by saying Jeb is “an embarrassment to the Bush family" and "a weak and ineffective person” who is “going to be off the stage soon...a basket case." And yet after all that, like a puppy who's been repeatedly kicked by his master and comes back begging for approval, Jeb couldn't help but defend Trump against Hillary Clinton's accusation that his anti-Muslim ranting was an excellent recruiting tool for ISIS:

"Hillary Clinton suggesting that Donald Trump is being used in an ISIS recruiting video, man, talk about chutzpah. There's no evidence of that. There's no evidence of that at all."

(Trump responded by saying, "Good boy! Now sit!")

On to Marco Rubio: When Trump basked in the praise of Russian president Vladimir Putin, Rubio harshly shot back,"he shouldn't be honored" and "he shouldn't excited." He then read off the bill of indictment against Putin but had nothing more to say about Trump. When Trump announced his plan to ban Muslims from entry to the US, Rubio went in for the kill:

"Obviously I don't agree with everything he says. There's a lot that we have a difference of opinion on. But we can't ignore that he's touched on some issues that people are concerned about."

Trump must have really smarted from that lethal jab.

John Kasich came out swinging with an ad evoking fascist imagery. When questioned about it, the fiery Republican governor backed off the message and said that the ad was in the words of a POW who felt very strongly about divisive people.

Lindsay Graham has been vociferous in his criticism, even saying Trump should "go to hell." He quit the race this week and gave this parting shot to Trump:

"You're doing really well. I'm impressed with your campaign."

Ted Cruz is the only one who doesn't bother to pretend to be anything but Trump's toady. His standard response to his every repulsive, irresponsible utterance is some version of the following:

“I don’t need to be another political pundit. I’m going to let Donald Trump speak for himself and I’ll speak for myself.”

For half a century the right wing has shrieked "Neville Chamberlain!" whenever anyone suggests that perhaps diplomacy or negotiation should be tried before the mighty US military unleashes hell. Their worldview is organized around the idea that to try to mollify bullies is irresponsible and cowardly.  In 2003 the Bush administration insisted that anything short of a full invasion of Iraq added up to capitulation and in recent days we've seen headlines like this in right wing media: The Iran Deal Appeases the Greatest Evil of Our Time.

Any attempt to mitigate a threat or finesse a difficult diplomatic challenge is met with such language. Unless, apparently, the threat is Donald Trump. These warrior leaders who all strut across the debate stage calling Democrats cowardly and weak and promising to kill all the terrorists cannot even deal effectively with a pampered, celebrity blowhard.  And that pampered, celebrity blowhard is laughing all the way to the nomination.

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By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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