Republicans should break with Trump, save themselves

For the past year-plus, Donald Trump has been the kid who keeps getting “one more chance” from his spineless parents, then breaks their rules again without consequence.

But when he careened off-road at a press conference Tuesday by lauding the “very fine people” among the white supremacists in Charlottesville, he had surely crossed the line a final time.

Or maybe not.

“President @realDonaldTrump once again denounced hate today,” tweeted Kayleigh McEnany, the national spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. “The GOP stands behind his message of love and inclusiveness!”

McEnany, 29, has been in the job just over a week. Elected Republicans and their party follow her strategy at their own peril. If the GOP stands behind Trump’s message on “inclusiveness” this time, it risks short-term and long-term damage: electoral losses in 2018 and 2020 and a redefinition of what Republicans stand for, sabotaging their ability to achieve the legitimate conservative policies they want for the country.

A better approach? Cut off the limb to save the body. Forget Trump and save your own political future. It’s time for Republicans to make a forceful and permanent break from the accidental president. History and voters stand poised to judge them whether they do or don’t.

General boorishness, bad-mouthing war heroes, mocking the handicapped: Republicans calculated that these were tolerable. Now they have a new calculation that should not be one at all: Will they stand with a man who stands with neo-Nazis and white supremacists?

What say you, Rep. Robert Pittenger of Charlotte? What say you, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis?

After Trump suggested a moral equivalency between neo-Nazis and those who protest them, Pittenger and Tillis denounced white supremacists but were silent about the president.

Perhaps that simply reveals that Pittenger, for example, is more concerned about Republican challenger Mark Harris in next year’s primary than he is about a potential general election opponent like Democrat Dan McCready. That is the complication Republicans nationwide face as they consider how to handle Trump.

Trump’s popularity has been underestimated repeatedly, of course. In 2018 and especially 2020, we could find out if a majority of Americans can truly excuse his racist, misogynistic views.

We think divorcing Trump is the politically astute thing for Republicans to do. We know it’s the morally correct thing to do. There’s no reason conservatives can’t be fiscal and foreign policy hawks and still reject Trump’s hate.

Republicans should universally, forcefully and consistently rebuke Trump every time he voices support for hatred of others. They should show him no more deference than they would a Democratic president. They could even (gasp!) seek ways to work with Democrats, sending a message of separation from Trump, while passing the conservative legislation they want.

Republicans could also show voters they do not share Trump’s views on exclusion by joining Democrats in a proposed censure, and by holding hearings on any danger that resurgent white supremacist groups pose to the country.

America needs (at least) two strong parties, with competing visions of health care and social services and foreign policy and criminal justice and on and on. Republicans, don’t let your devotion to, or even acceptance of, Trump undercut that competition of ideas.