What Took Them So Long?
Published: October 17th, 2016
By: Steven and Cokie Roberts

What took them so long?

Since a video surfaced revealing Donald Trump's demeaning and despicable attitudes toward women, a raft of Republicans have abandoned their own nominee. Even Speaker Paul Ryan, a profile in cowardice this whole campaign, said he would no longer defend Trump or campaign with him -- although he did not rescind his formal endorsement.

Trump insisted in a video message that the tape gave a false impression of his character: "Anyone who knows me knows these words don't reflect who I am."

Hillary Clinton, during her recent debate with Trump, rebutted that assertion: "He says the video doesn't represent who he is. But I think it's clear to anyone who heard it that it represents exactly who he is."

Exactly right. There is no New Trump. There is no Trump 2.0. There is only one Trump, The Donald, the man on the tape who mocks and menaces just about anyone who crosses him. Not just women, but immigrants, Muslims, persons with disabilities, war heroes, even fellow Republicans. Remember "Lyin' Ted" and "Little Marco"?

What is truly astounding is how many Republicans chose to ignore this totally obvious character flaw -- and still do. When he announced his candidacy 16 months ago, Trump derided immigrants from Mexico this way: "They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists."

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That tirade, just like the newly released tape, "represents exactly who he is." And yet with a few brave exceptions -- Mitt Romney, the Bushes -- Republican leaders buried their heads, and just about every other body part, deeply in the sand.

They offered all sorts of rationalizations for their self-delusion: Trump won the nomination fair and square. We cannot alienate his voters. If he wins, we can control him. And the worst rationalization of all: Anybody is better than Hillary.

Those arguments have all collapsed. As Clinton opened a steady lead in the polls -- up to 6 points in the RealClearPolitics average, which is large, but not unbeatable -- Republicans leapt for the lifeboats. Trump denounced the defectors as "so many self-righteous hypocrites," and he has a point.

They were hypocrites to support him in the first place. They knew what he was like. They knew he was not remotely qualified. And they have only themselves to blame for the disaster, to use one of Trump's favorite words, now enveloping their party.

"Since Day One," Katie Packer, a former Romney adviser, told the Washington Post, "I have been waving these giant red flags in front of people saying, 'No, no, no, don't go down this road because this road leads to our party being very tainted and candidate who's dangerously unfit to be president,' but people went storming ahead down that road anyhow."

"Most Republican officeholders gritted their teeth and endorsed and even embraced Donald Trump," added John 'Mac' Stipanovich, a GOP lobbyist in Florida. "All of those people were collaborators, and all of those people will have to live with their collaboration for the rest of their political lives."

In a curious way, Trump's reasonably effective performance in the second debate could actually hurt the Republican Party. It's now harder for down-ballot candidates to Dump Trump without risking the wrath of his supporters.

As Ross Douthat, the conservative columnist for The New York Times, tweeted: "The Republicans get what they deserve: He did well enough that they're definitely stuck with him."

And they're not just stuck with him for this election year. Imagine how many Democratic ads in future campaigns will attack Republicans for backing Trump. "This is going to last forever," lamented Rick Wilson, a GOP strategist.

Actually, it won't. After huge Republican victories in 1972 and 1980, plenty of obituaries were written for the Democratic Party. And they have won the popular vote in five of the last six elections.

But for the Republican Party to rebound, they have to learn the lesson of 2016. Trump reversed a lot of political rules, but he didn't repeal all of them. Politics is, and always has been, about addition rather than subtraction. You have to add voters, build coalitions, reach beyond your base. And you do that by nominating a candidate who is actually qualified for the office.

Donald Trump did none of that. He narrowed the party base, alienated potential allies, especially women, and demonstrated -- over and over again -- that he should never be president.

Why did so many Republicans take so long to figure that out?

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– By Steven and Cokie Roberts, NEA Columnists