Donald Trump — his allies, and his detractors can all agree — has transformed the political landscape. That much has been true since he announced his candidacy almost one year ago and stayed on top of the polls, even after his many outrageous comments.
But in the past few weeks, Trump has unwittingly revealed much about the Republican Party, and especially the integrity of many of its best-known personalities.
Two former opponents of Trump, former governors Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal, previously endorsed other candidates. But while they did so, they attacked Trump, and let audiences know that they believed he would be bad for America.
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Last August, Perry said Trump was “using his celebrity rather than his conservatism,” and criticized his advocacy of a single-payer healthcare system — a position that puts him in agreement with Bernie Sanders — in a speech captured by Real Clear Politics. He also called Trump “a cancer on conservatism,” according to the Washington Post.
In March, Jindal declared that “President Obama created Donald Trump” in an editorial for the Wall Street Journal.
Both Perry and Jindal now support Trump.
Then, it was former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, a hero of social conservatives. While he generally refrained from openly attacking Trump (and attended his January Iowa rally for wounded army veterans), Santorum endorsed Marco Rubio.
Last week, he also endorsed Trump.
But perhaps the most shocking case of all is Rubio. In March, Rubio attacked Trump, calling him “an embarrassment,” according to The Guardian. He also said, “If we’re the party of fear, with a candidate who basically is trying to prey upon people’s fears to get them to vote for them, I think we’re going to pay a big price in November and beyond.”
But just yesterday, Rubio told CNN‘s Jake Tapper that he wanted to be “helpful” in equipping Trump to defeat Hillary Clinton in November, and said he would be willing to speak at the GOP convention if Trump asked him to.
Conservative pundits were quick to express their disappointment in Rubio. Jennifer Rubin, who writes the Right Turn blog at the Washington Post, said, “In making this entirely unnecessary pledge of support, Rubio has ceded a potential role in the rebuilding of the GOP post-Trump.”
Philip Klein, a columnist at The Washington Examiner, agreed.
“For all of Rubio’s rhetoric about responsible leadership, he’s now willing to embrace a demagogue just because that demagogue has an ‘R’ next to his name. Trump, for all his faults, has managed to expose Rubio’s true character — and it is not pretty.”
For others, supporting Donald Trump remains an ethical dilemma. Philip George, a professor at Princeton University and a leading intellectual of social conservatives, has been agonizing over what he should do.
“The best argument for holding our noses and voting for Donald Trump can be summed up in two words: Supreme Court,” he told The Weekly Standard.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) May 27, 2016
But while he opposes Hillary Clinton, George nonetheless maintained, “I cannot say right now that the consequences of four years of Hillary would be worse than four years of Trump.”
Michael Cromartie, who directs the Evangelicals in Civic Life and Faith Angle Forum programs at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told The Standard that as evangelicals support Donald Trump, they are ceding the issue of character.
“Evangelical social conservatives are going to lose any cachet in bringing up character questions in the future about anything,” Cromartie said. “They’re just going to lose all credibility.”
Columnist Maggie Gallagher made her decision to not vote for Trump after watching the final GOP debate in March, when “the guy who wants to sit in the White House started voluntarily discussing his genitals on national television.”
.@marcorubio: Would you support Mitt Romney instead of Trump if Romney ran as an independent?
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) May 27, 2016
Meanwhile, other social conservatives like former candidates Dr. Ben Carson and Gov. Mike Huckabee (who has spoken positively of Trump on Fox News, and whose daughter works for his campaign), and Jerry Falwell, Jr. of Liberty University have all pledged their support to Trump.
Other notable Republicans are also now backing Trump, after having previously criticized him. But a few have yet to endorse him — the most obvious example being House Speaker Paul Ryan. Granted, Ryan is in a difficult position, given his current post. But after saying that he was not ready to endorse Donald Trump, and even after what he called a “productive” meeting with him, Ryan is still not ready to take the next step, he told CNN.
“I haven’t made a decision,” he said, “and nothing’s changed my perspective. We’re still having productive conversations.”
But Ryan’s former 2012 running mate, Mitt Romney, vows that he not only won’t endorse Trump — but until recently, he was looking for a third party candidate to run against him and Clinton.
Romney told Politico that he understands that many Republicans are “offended” that he, as the previous GOP nominee who lost is speaking out against Trump, “but that’s how I can sleep at night.”
He added, “When the grandkids ask ‘What did you do to stop Donald Trump?’ what are you going to say?'”
Rubin summed up the controversy by calling Trump “the turpentine that strips the political class of its veneer of probity, leaving exposed the raw character of so many politicians and political insiders.”
While too many Republican leaders are “failing miserably,” she said, “The only consolation is that it is better to know now and going forward who these people are.”
What do you think? Has Donald Trump revealed the true character of the Republican Party? Are you planning on voting for him, for Hillary Clinton, or someone else?
[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]