Dear President George W. Bush, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Gov. Mitt Romney:
I am writing you in your role as the de facto leaders of your party. Gentleman, the Republic is in peril. Donald Trump poses a mortal danger not just to the Republican Party, but also to the American democratic experiment itself.
Imagine America in 1968 if George Wallace were leading in the polls. Or if Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 — at the depths of the Depression — had given way to the urging of prominent liberals like Walter Lippmann for “a mild species of dictatorship.”
This is not the normal hyperbole that both parties trot out every four years that transforms a ho-hum presidential race like Bill Clinton versus Bob Dole in 1996 into a titanic struggle between good and evil.
Candidate Trump represents something that goes far beyond pedestrian fears of damage to the Republican brand or the loss of Senate and House seats. He is the embodiment of the authoritarian temptation that has imperiled liberty since the days of the Roman Republic.
At every stage of the campaign, he has thumbed his nose at democratic norms. Start with his admiration for Vladimir Putin. Instead of position papers, Trump offers the voters fact-free assertions about the Mexicans paying for a wall and the Chinese knuckling to his superior negotiating ability.
Never in modern history has a serious presidential candidate displayed such contempt for responsibilities that come with the Oval Office and custody of the nuclear codes.
His ignorance of the nuclear triad and his claim that he gets his foreign policy expertise from watching TV talk shows symbolizes something larger — an ego that makes Napoleon seem self-effacing.
Equally alarming is the brazenness of Trump’s lies. He insists that he never called for a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports — and still clings to that denial even after the New York Times released a tape of him saying just that. Even more horrifying was Trump’s insistence (in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary) that hundreds of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated when the Twin Towers collapsed on 9/11.
You have seen how Trump’s temperament in public borders on the unhinged. And you have witnessed the vitriol that Trump directs at anyone who gets in his way — from other Republicans (recall how he likened Ben Carson to a “child molester”) to the news media (remember Megyn Kelly.)
But now, sensing how the political winds are blowing, prominent Republicans in Washington are busy convincing themselves that Trump is an authoritarian they can do business with. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy just said on MSNBC, “I think I can work with Donald Trump.”
Work with Donald Trump?
Everything in this campaign has demonstrated that Trump is only using the Republican Party for ballot access. He has no allegiance to any Republican ideology and offers no guarantee that Republicans will even be welcome in his White House.
The looming danger is that Trump could be elected president. If he prevails at the Cleveland Convention, only a wounded Hillary Clinton and a divided Democratic Party would stand between him and the White House.
Think for a moment of President Trump — a man who revels in getting even — in charge of the IRS, the FBI and the CIA.
None of you, I know, is comfortable imagining President Trump. And there’s no time to delay; the enemy (and that is not a word I use lightly) is at the gates. Which is why I urge all four of you to go public with an Anybody But Trump alliance.
I understand that each of you has normally persuasive reasons for staying on the sidelines.
President Bush: After unsuccessfully campaigning for your brother, it would be hard to return to a public political role.
Speaker Ryan: As the chairman of the 2016 Convention, you have an excuse to retreat to neutrality.
Majority Leader McConnell: Given your public scorn for Sen. Ted Cruz, you may have convinced yourself that even President Trump would be preferable.
Gov. Romney: Rumors suggest that you may soon endorse Sen. Marco Rubio. But this is a rare situation when who you are against is more important than who you are for.
What I am proposing is that the four of you — individually or collectively — issue a statement saying flatly that you could not support Trump, even if he were the Republican nominee. This is a moment when love of country trumps love of party.
The goal would not be to anoint a nominee, but to prevent Donald Trump from getting any closer to the levers of power.
You have all dedicated significant portions of your lives to public service. That is why you do not want to be remembered as leaders who sat on the sidelines — privately despairing — in the face of the gravest threat to American democracy in decades.
God bless America,
Walter Shapiro, columnist for Roll Call
Shapiro is covering his 10th presidential race. A fellow at the Brennan Center at NYU, he is lecturer in political science at Yale and is the author of the coming in June ‘Hustling Hitler: The Jewish Vaudevillian Who Fooled the Fuhrer.’ Follow him on Twitter at @MrWalterShapiro
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