Republican Leaders Cower as Trump Burns Down Their Party

McConnell and Ryan still hope the presumptive nominee can grow into the role.

On his own.

Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Smoke is rising from the Capitol dome and the first responders are missing in action. Instead of running into the building to save it from their presumptive nominee, Republicans are running away. Watch them scurry at the approach of a reporter wielding nothing more than a notebook or a mike asking about the latest outburst from Donald Trump. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's press briefings have been designated Trump-free zones. His No. 2, Senator John Cornyn, announced he won't take any Trump questions until after the November election.

Profiles in courage, one and all. Hiding is not working and the situation is now dire. How could party leaders entrust the nuclear codes to the hands, big or small, of President Trump. In the last week alone, the Donald has accused President Barack Obama of treason. He says he is happy to talk to North Korea, without preconditions, and get it to put down its nuclear weapons, but he won't accredit the Washington Post to follow his campaign.

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His solution to tragedies such as the mass shooting in Orlando is to arm everyone, everywhere. Imagine how much better it would have been, he said, if those dancing the night away had guns "strapped to their ankle or strapped to their waist" and shot back. 

For Trump, Orlando was not a tragedy deserving thought but an occasion for calling attention to himself. He took a victory lap, saying that the massacre had somehow proved him right, an assertion with no basis in reality. He ended a tweet asking for credit for being right with the further claim that he wasn't asking for credit for being right.

At a speech on Wednesday, Trump gave his party a taste of what it's like to be one of his targets. He blasted would-be allies who had offered the mildest guidance to, perhaps, use a teleprompter, or think before he spoke, or bring in a few wise people to guide him on how to speak to an audience wider than the ones that cheer when he calls for banning Muslims, says the word "wall," or mocks a disabled reporter.

"Our leaders have to get a lot tougher," he said at a rally in Atlanta. "And be quiet. Just please be quiet. Don't talk. Please be quiet."

If that's not enough, in a pout, he said he will take his ball and play by himself: "Let me just do it by myself. I'll do very well. I'm going to do very well. OK? I'm going to do very well. A lot of people thought I should do that anyway, but I'll just do it very nicely by myself."

He is like a misbehaving child you kick subtly under the table to shape up who then announces he's been kicked and defiantly refuses to behave better. His defiance makes a mockery of the admonitions of McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan and others to just give Trump a little time to adjust to the bigger stage he's on and the bigger job he is asking for.

Trump, however, would rather go it alone than acknowledge, by changing, that he might not have been perfect all along. After all, he won and they didn't.

The campaign is more about him than the presidency. It wasn't to win the presidency that he took after a judge whose life has been in danger for going after drug cartels in California and who's been called an American hero by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Trump did it to ensure that he wouldn't have to make restitution to those duped  by his fake university. Ryan called the judge  outrage "counterproductive."

The party didn't mind that their presumptive nominee drove the birther movement but they're worried now that independents and moderate Republicans might not like a nativist and conspiracy theorist who accuses the president of treason.  

Even now the party is not worried about the stain itself as much as the fact that the stain is spreading. New polls show the Republicans could lose their ruling majority in Congress, with the Senate particularly threatened. The re-election bids of Senators Kelly Ayotte, Ron Johnson and even the venerable John McCain are in jeopardy.

No one should have expected bravery from a party that is spineless in the face of the National Rifle Association. Its leaders are too afraid of a bunch of lobbyists with checkbooks to do anything about protecting the country from lone wolf terrorists bearing military-style assault rifles. No wonder they're afraid of a casino mogul.

There was a time when a bucket of water would have worked to stop Trump. Now the conflagration is such that it will take high-powered hoses to put out. Republicans weren't willing to do it for the country. They may be willing to do it to save themselves.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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    Margaret Carlson at

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