With mounting vehemence and desperation, Republican and conservative politicians and pundits are denouncing Donald Trump and his appeal to what is characterized as the lowest instincts of the American electorate. From Mitt Romney (“Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud”) to columnists George Will (“Trump is a presidential aspirant who would flunk an eighth-grade civics exam”) and Michael Gerson (“Trump roots his intimidation in a worldview—the need for the strong hand”), the cry against Trump is rising.
A number of prominent Republican Jews were among the 60 conservatives in think tanks and alumni of Republican administrations who signed a letter last week listing the ways Trump would “make America less safe” including “hateful, anti-Muslim rhetoric” that “undercuts the seriousness of combating Islamic radicalism.” “As committed and loyal Republicans, we are unable to support a Party ticket with Mr. Trump at its head,” the letter said.
And according to former George W. Bush speechwriter Noam Neusner, Trump “has built within our party the nearest thing America has ever seen to a European nativist working-class political movement. Such movements, to put it mildly, have never been good for the Jews or allies of free thought and the free market.”
It is clear that the Republican establishment underestimated Trump. The rest of us shouldn’t. He appeals to a demographic that is frustrated and expanding. Like those European nativists cited by Neusner, Trump is tapping into a well of Americans, a number of whom are racist, who want to turn their backs on “outsiders” and bestow generous social benefits on the rest. If Republicans want to challenge Trump, they need to find a strong alternative—but it may be too late.
It remains to be seen how many Republicans will stick with Trump out of spite for the Democratic nominee, whether it be Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, or whether some will choose to support another party or stay home on Election Day. But the fact that these issues are even being raised shows what an unusual—and potentially treacherous—election year this is turning out to be.
No matter what your political affiliation, Trump is a force today. That is our new reality.