Having worked since 1961 to build the modern Republican Party of Texas, I care about the Republican brand now and into the far future, during and past the presidency of Donald Trump.
I should disclose that I backed Jeb Bush in the 2016 presidential primaries and in the fall supported a Libertarian Party ticket composed of two former Republican governors. For this reason, some in the GOP – and certainly the President himself — might dismiss this essay as just the grumbling of a sore loser (pronounced loozah).
However, there are, in fact, many things Trump has done that I readily applaud: His judicial nominations, tax reform, and the deregulation of American business.
I am nonetheless deeply troubled by a White House in turmoil; by the lack of Trump appointees in agencies and embassies; by the chilling ease with which he accuses critics of “treason” and being “enemies of the people”; and by his negative fixation on US Sen. John McCain, a true American hero, alive and dead.
When Trump does something uncalled for, many Republicans will simply say he was better than Hillary Clinton. But in case they haven’t noticed, she’s not around any more. To keep raising the choice we faced in 2016 as an excuse for Trump’s behavior today is akin to saying I crashed into your parked car because road construction forced me to turn down your street.
I may be a political has-been, but I don’t understand why Republican members of Congress refuse to speak out against the mean and petty things Trump says and does. Yes, he is more popular with “the base” than they are. But they have not just refrained from criticizing the President – they have fallen all over each other to praise him.
Many Christian pastors have likewise lost credibility for overlooking Donald Trump’s amorality, past and present. They seem to care more about the appointment of judges than the Book of Judges. (That’s the one about God punishing the Israelites for falling into idolatry.)
If pressed on Trump’s marital infidelity, filthy language, and plain un-Christian attitude toward others, these divines usually say, “Well, he is an imperfect man, and we believe in forgiveness.”
Truly, we are all “imperfect” and always in need of forgiveness. But few of us are as imperfect as Trump, and we expect our faith leaders to be more concerned about the moral example set by whoever is president than who sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
Maybe it’s not quite a case of “rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.” Let’s just say that such pastors are awfully enthusiastic about Caesar these days.
There’s a direct parallel between them and the liberal feminists who forgave Bill Clinton’s loutish and misogynistic behavior because they liked his judicial appointments. In the #Me, Too era, many of these women are finally willing to condemn Clinton for his actions toward Monica Lewinsky and the vicious things his henchmen said about other love interests.
Perhaps much sooner than twenty years, those who now excuse Donald Trump’s behavior will be similarly embarrassed and regretful.
Love Story, the sappy book and movie of the early ‘70s, gave us the indelible line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” I have a political version: Democracy means never having to say you’re sorry. None of the 63 million people who voted for Donald Trump need apologize.
Instead, they and all of us should expect Trump to think and act as the leader of the entire country, not just one segment of it. When a grave crisis comes, as it does for all presidents, we will want him to bring us together and, if necessary, to comfort and encourage us – not to condemn or belittle his opponents.
When the space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986, President Reagan spoke to us almost as the nation’s father, giving us renewed faith in the future and ourselves. I fear that if something like that occurred today, our president might say, “I like astronauts who don’t get blown up, OK?”
Because Trump will likely always be Trump, the burden falls to us to uphold our values and standards as Republicans. We should encourage our elected officials and candidates to speak up when they are troubled by something President Trump does or says. We should commend them when they do. And we should stand up and speak out ourselves.
We need to do this for our own self-respect and as a strong statement to our children and to the electorate that Donald Trump’s personal behavior, past and present, is inconsistent with our values as a party and as a people.
Chase Untermeyer, a Houstonian, was director of presidential personnel for President George H.W. Bush. This piece is adapted from a speech delivered to the Downtown Houston Pachyderm Club.