The GOP is in a scary place. Not just because they’re about to make Donald Trump, a man who doesn’t seem to be aware of the grown-up quality of tact or discretion, their nominee for president. That’s not because every Republican agrees with him. It’s because, as William Saletan at Slate explains, they’re afraid not to.
By Thursday night, the Republican race had narrowed to four men: Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio, and Gov. John Kasich. They met on a debate stage in Detroit. Bret Baier of Fox News posed this question to Trump:
Just yesterday, almost 100 foreign policy experts signed on to an open letter refusing to support you, saying your embracing expansive use of torture is inexcusable. Gen. Michael Hayden, former CIA director, NSA director, and other experts have said that when you ask the U.S. military to carry out some of your campaign promises—specifically, targeting terrorists’ families, and also the use of interrogation methods more extreme than waterboarding—the military will refuse because they’ve been trained to turn down and refuse illegal orders. So what would you do, as commander in chief, if the U.S. military refused to carry out those orders?
Trump answered: “They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me. Believe me.” He added, “We should go tougher than waterboarding.” Baier repeated his question: “But targeting terrorists’ families?” Trump replied: “I’m a leader. I’ve always been a leader. … If I say, ‘Do it,’ they’re going to do it.”
This wasn’t a gaffe. It was a casual promise of dictatorship. For a response, Baier turned to Cruz, the GOP’s self-styled constitutionalist. But Cruz raised no objection. He shrugged that “yelling and cursing at people doesn’t make you a tough guy,” and he assured the audience that he would be tougher than Trump. Rubio faulted Trump, but only for ignorance: “He was asked a question about the issue of commanders not following his lead on killing the family of terrorists. And his answer basically was, ‘If I tell them to do it, they’re going to do it.’ Now, that’s just not true.” Rubio could have said this was a good thing and that Trump’s threat was rash. Instead, the senator’s only complaint was that Trump couldn’t do what he promised.
At the end of the debate, Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich pledged to support Trump if he won the nomination. But their moral silence about his answer to Baier was far more damning. Why has Trump gotten this far? Because no one in his party has the guts to stand up to him.
In the past week, some GOP donors and strategists have thrown together a last-ditch campaign to stop Trump. It’s a charade. These people are far more afraid of losing the general election than they are of a Trump presidency.
This isn’t the only example of GOP cowardice. Last week Mr. Trump said that when he’s president he’s going to revamp the libel laws so that he can go after the reporters and media outlets that haven’t been nice to him. The response from the party that claims to revere the Constitution and despise big government overreach didn’t recoil in horror from this blatant threat to the First Amendment; the only sound was crickets.
Where did this sudden trepidation for owning what they created come from? I’ve said for a long time that the Republicans don’t want to govern, they want to rule. It looks like they’ve found their guy.