My latest, in the New York Review of Books:
“Think of Donald Trump’s personal qualities,” the former presidential nominee told the audience. “The bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics.”
He reminded the audience that Trump was “an individual who mocked a disabled reporter, who attributed a reporter’s questions to her menstrual cycle, who mocked a brilliant rival who happened to be a woman due to her appearance, who bragged about his marital affairs, and who laces his public speeches with vulgarity.”
He laid out the clear and present danger posed by Trump. “He creates scapegoats of Muslims and Mexican immigrants. He calls for the use of torture. He calls for killing the innocent children and family members of terrorists. He cheers assaults on protesters. He applauds the prospect of twisting the Constitution to limit First Amendment freedom of the press. This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss.”
Beyond Trump’s unfitness for office was his coarsening effect on the culture. “Now, imagine your children and your grandchildren acting the way he does. Would you welcome that? Haven’t we seen before what happens when people in prominent positions fail the basic responsibility of honorable conduct? We have. And it always injures our families and our country.”
At stake was the future of our democracy, the former nominee said, citing John Adams. “Remember, democracy never lasts long; it soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”
That was March 3, 2016, and the speaker was Mitt Romney. As extraordinary as his indictment was, it had little discernible effect on Trump’s march toward the Republican nomination. But the speech underlines a central reality of our politics: the GOP knew what it was embracing; it was all there and Republicans were warned. They may have been deluded, but they were not uninformed.
Like so many of his fellow Republicans, Romney would eventually make his peace with Trump, even entertaining over a dinner of frogs’ legs the possibility of becoming his secretary of state. Nearly a year after Trump’s election, congressional Republicans and the president find themselves locked in a relationship of morbid co-dependency, but it is not one based on misunderstanding. There was no mystery, no hidden knowledge, about who or what Donald Trump was, or what it would mean to invest him with the royal purple of the presidency. Republicans gave it to him knowingly.