Recently disclosed audio and video footage of Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women with impunity due to his star power has set off a cascade of Republican defections, concentrated among, but not limited to, officeholders who face competitive elections next month.
The abruptness with which these one-time endorsers abandoned their party’s presidential nominee, citing in many cases their wives and daughters as inspirations for their decisions, raises questions about whether these Republicans know any Mexican immigrants or Muslims, given Trump’s similarly offensive comments about those groups.
But the growing consensus that Trump should relinquish the GOP nomination has revealed something more odious than American conservatism’s familiar lack of basic empathy.
Whether they’ve opposed Trump from the outset, as a small subset of Republicans can claim to have been, or come to their opposition abruptly, in the past 24 hours, these party actors aren’t proposing to cede the presidential election, while working to shore up down-ballot races. They are arguing that, at bottom, and despite everything we’ve seen the party stoop to in the past year, Republicans still deserve to control the entire government. They are entertaining the anti-democratic fantasy of sweeping their Trump enablement out of memory and grabbing the country’s levers of power in an unwelcome, Trumpian fashion.
In rescinding his endorsement, Idaho Senator Mike Crapo said, “I urge Donald Trump to step aside and allow the Republican party to put forward a conservative candidate like Mike Pence who can defeat Hillary Clinton.”
Crapo’s full statement, echoed by others in the party, contains two parts. He and other Republicans are hurriedly drawing distance between themselves from Trump as a matter of self-preservation. But they are also proposing to transcend this crisis by completely upending the election.
Republican officials and strategists are gaming out ways not just to abandon Trump, but to overturn the results of the Republican primary, and the votes of hundreds of thousands of citizens who have cast ballots for Trump already.
The unspoken premise here—that the terms of this election aren’t fixed—will come as a surprise to citizens of states where Republicans are trying to freeze or shrink the pool of registered voters. Trump’s “grab ’em by the pussy” tape surfaced against the backdrop of a mass evacuation of southern Florida, ahead of the arrival of an enormous hurricane, on the eve of Florida’s voter registration deadline. By unanimous consent, Republicans determined it was too late to extend the deadline for evacuees who hadn’t submitted their paperwork before the storm made landfall. That decision was undertaken with an eye toward making the composition of the electorate maximally favorable to Republicans, who were dutifully defending this decision yesterday.
Twenty-four hours later, after reaffirming their desire to make voting harder for the poor and people of color, Republicans want nothing less than to replace the election the country’s been enduring for months with an entirely new one, and without wasting a single moment.
The fly in the ointment for these Republicans is Trump himself, who has no incentive to go down without fighting; he has vowed to “never withdraw.” Before this tape emerged, Republicans intimated that they’d try to close their Trump chapter after the election by pretending it had never been written. On Friday, I argued that Trump’s continued existence would make that impossible. The Trump tape has simply accelerated this timeline. Republicans still want to scrub Trump from the public imagination, only they want to do it immediately and then be rewarded for it with unmatched political power.
This is pure political fantasy. But after everything we’ve seen, after everything Republicans have done in front of the public, it is striking that they believe entrusting themselves with immense power is a good idea, and something they should pursue lustily. Republicans don’t need a democracy-traducing Hail Mary to save them from political oblivion. They need a truth and reconciliation commission of the American right, conducted in the political wilderness.