The message from Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus wasn’t subtle: Anyone who ran for president this year and agreed to support the primary winner, best get on board the Trump Train. Otherwise, he said on CBS’ Face The Nation, “I don’t think it’s going to be that easy for them” to run again. “It’s not a threat,” he added. “It’s just a question that we have a process in place.”
He has it precisely backwards. If there’s going to be a purge, banish Republican officeholders who supported Donald Trump. The GOP needs to rid itself of those who turned what should have been a banner year for Republicans into a moral disaster and, tightening polls notwithstanding, likely a political one as well.
In assessing the players, we can begin with the septuagenarians, a raft of whom —Jeff Sessions, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich and William J. Bennett — cast their lot with Trump. With their glory days behind them, we can only speculate about whether they are seeking a desperate last moment of relevance. What’s not at issue is that they all have soiled their reputations (try squaring the lessons taught in moralist Bennett’s famous Book of Virtues with Trump’s circle of ceaseless lying, philandering, and vulgarity).
A more important group is younger Republicans like Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and Paul Ryan.
Cruz, of course, earned notoriety for declining to endorse Trump at the Republican convention, but that was after he spent months cozying up to the tycoon in hopes of inheriting his voters. It was only when Trump pulled far ahead of him that the unprincipled Cruz began to attack Trump on principle, earning no decorations for high-mindedness or consistency.
Christie, exceedingly unpopular in his home state of New Jersey, went the furthest of the four in Trump’s direction. He was a scathing critic in the primaries but then metamorphosed into an ultra-loyal surrogate, drawing ridicule as Trump’s shoe-shine boy. With his direct involvement in the Bridgegate scandal now coming to light in the trial of his former top aides, it is difficult to envision the garden state governor making a political recovery. It is far easier to see him heading to a slot in the private sector or, more likely, a cell in a federal penitentiary.
Rubio is a somewhat different story, doing just enough to dirty himself without fully casting in his lot. While the Florida senator was still fighting for the Republican nod, Trump was “a con artist,” “wholly unprepared” to be president, “an erratic individual” who couldn’t be trusted with the nuclear codes. After Trump won the nomination, this same Rubio said he would be “honored” to help Trump in any way he could.Revolving full circle in his adversary’s turnstile, Rubio emerged looking small and weak, becoming precisely the “Little Marco” that Trump had abusively dubbed him. Even if he manages to claw his way back into the Senate, Rubio’s national prospects have considerably dimmed.
Is Ryan any better off? In one breath, the House speaker denounced Trump for spouting what he called a “textbook definition” of racism. In the next, he insisted that this font of racism was perfectly well suited both to represent the Republican Party and serve as president of the United States. “Trump’s Coward” was the apt headline on a Slate article scoring Ryan for treating “religious bigotry as a negotiable issue and a tolerable point of view.” Ryan’s peregrinations have left him looking feeble and ridiculous. Although his speakership appears to be secure, the GOP will never recover its moral standing as long as he remains its most powerful official.
Perhaps lowest of all on the ethical totem pole is Priebus himself. The chairman commissioned and embraced a post-2012 “autopsy” that argued the path to victory in 2016 was greater Republican engagement with minority voters, especially Hispanics, to “demonstrate that we care about them.” Along the way, the document slammedMitt Romney for using the phrase “self-deportation.”