Election Day is right around the corner and most Americans are begging for it to be over. While every presidential election brings fatigue, the offensiveness, the grossness — the ick — that Republican nominee Donald Trump has brought to this race has the nation reeling.
There’s one group ready for this campaign to be over above all others: Republican Party leaders and elected officials. As Trump continues to dig his own grave one slimy insult at a time, all signs point to a crushing victory for Hillary Clinton, which could produce electoral coattails that didn’t even exist three weeks ago. Like a team watching the clock tick away during a lopsided victory, they must be hoping the end comes mercifully and swiftly.
But Nov. 9 won’t end the problems Trump poses for Republicans. The stain of his campaign will last a generation, at least, and shackle Republicans’ ability to build a coalition that can realistically take back the White House. Trump isn’t going anywhere.
In the past, presidential nominees on the losing side of things seemed to take one of two routes — they either entered a life of retirement and nonprofits or simply got back to work. Neither of these seems to be a realistic option for Trump, a man who doesn’t want to exist without someone watching him. Whatever the future holds, we can be reasonably certain Trump will use whatever platform he has to spout headline grabbing nonsense and, more importantly, to take revenge on those whom he feels slighted him during his campaign.
This should terrify Republican officeholders who dared condemn a man bragging about sexual assault. A large majority of the Republican base, already seeing any officeholder, no matter how ideologically pure, as part of the problem, will lay a big chunk of blame for a Trump loss at the feet of party leaders who didn’t defend the candidate at every turn. A recent Monmouth poll showed that 69% of likely GOP voters believe that the Republican leadership is not giving Trump enough support. For Republican office holders, that’s a recipe for electoral disaster as soon as primary season rolls around.
But outside of the Republican Party is where Trump has done his real damage, and while it may not be permanent, it’s not going to heal itself anytime soon.
After the 2012 reelection of Barack Obama, the GOP did some serious soul searching and issued a document, commonly described as an autopsy, called the “Growth & Opportunity Project.” In it, longtime Republican leaders took a sober look at their loss in 2012 and put forward recommendations they saw as necessary if their party was to thrive and grow in the future.
To view these recommendations at the near conclusion of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is comedy at its highest level. Lines like “The RNC cannot and will not write off any demographic or community or region of this country” or “If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States, they will not pay attention to our next sentence” leap off the page as if these warnings were purposefully ignored as Trump insulted large swaths of America, one demographic at a time.
Instead of embracing the Latino community, the fastest growing racial demographic in America, Trump decided to offend them horribly and constantly. His words, and the silence from GOP leaders at the sound of them, could hobble Republican attempts to win them over for decades to come.
As for millennials, who now make up a larger percentage of the American population than baby boomers, Trump is blowing it — badly. A USA Today poll last week showed Trump trailing Clinton by 48 points among millennials. You can’t make a first impression twice and to these voters, most voting in their first presidential election where the name “Obama” wasn’t on the ballot, Republicans showed that their party does not embrace, nor care to embrace, the inclusiveness and tolerance coming to this generation.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Trump has shown that a Republican candidate for president can treat women like garbage with only the slightest of rebukes from his own party’s leadership. You can brag about sexually assaulting women or call women too ugly to sexually assault. You can call them fat pigs. You can say any of the other horrible things Trump has said about women and that still isn’t enough to lose the vote of Republican elected officials. Oh, they might scold you in the name of their wives and daughters, but at the end of the day, in the eyes of a Mitch McConnell, a Matt Bevin or a Rand Paul, such treatment doesn’t disqualify you for the highest office in the land.
GOP insiders must be wondering how they let things get so far, but the answer is simple. All of this mess was preventable. There were a million choices that Republican officials — from governors to city council members — made to allow Trump to scar them up. There were a million times when they stayed silent when they should have spoken up. But they didn’t. And so dignity and decency took a back seat to politics.
Republicans can’t un-ring the bell Donald Trump has rung.
Matt Erwin, a Louisville-based communications consultant, is a former staffer in the Kentucky and Illinois House of Representatives and a former communications director and spokesman for the Kentucky Democratic Party. He is a columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal, where this piece first appeared.