At The Daily Beast Michael Tomasky posts what may be the best article written anywhere about Donald Trump’s campaign, “Who in GOP Will Finally Stop Trump?: Party leaders could summon the courage of their predecessor Margaret Chase Smith, who stood up to Joseph McCarthy when it mattered. That is, if any of them have the stones to do it.”
I’m still not sure it’s 100 percent clear that Donald Trump really understands that he’s a neo-fascist. He may not know enough history to be fully aware of the now-undeniable odor of his rhetoric and campaign. He may think a member of a racial minority being beat up and called a “n***r” by his racial-majority supporters at a rally, and his own joking about it, is just a little incident; something for which there’s no larger historical context. I know he allegedly had the book of Hitler’s speeches by his bed, but I still think he’s doing most of this on instinct rather than with intellectual intention because I doubt he knows enough about fascism for it to be the latter.
But stop and think about this: I just wrote a paragraph musing on whether the leading candidate for president of the United States from one of our two major parties is knowingly fascist. We’re at the point where we’re debating whether the Republican Party frontrunner is or is not objectively a fascist.
Trump’s GOP opponents are either too intimidated or incapable of calling him out. Of the Republican candidates, notes Tomasky, only former Gov. Jim Gilmore has spoken out against Trump’s “fascist talk.” Where are the others, asks Tomasky? Do any of them have the mettle that it took to speak out against McCarthyism?
And that brings us to the question: Who in the Republican Party is going to step up here? Because this is A Moment for the GOP, make no mistake. It’s a historical moment, and when your leading candidate is joking about his supporters beating people up at rallies and musing about religious ID cards for around (ahem) 6 million of your citizens, it’s time to say something.
Reince Priebus, after the last election, called on his party to be more inclusive. Is this what you had in mind, Reince? How about the other leading candidates? Is this where you want your party to be taken? Karl Rove and others in the professional political class–will they say anything, if not out of moral principle then at least to try to protect their party’s candidates from down-ticket disaster?
And most of all, what about the party’s graybeards and elder statesmen? Looking at you, John McCain. How about a little “Straight Talk” now, about a man who proposes to come into your state, where there are an estimated 300,000 or so unauthorized immigrants, and break up families because one of them’s illegal and the other is not?
The GOP has deliberately pandered to and exacerbated the worst prejudices of their voters. As Tomasky notes, “this predicament raises the interesting question of how one-third of their voters came to admire a neo-fascist and open racist in the first place. Gee, it can’t have anything to do with the kind of rhetoric and “harmless jokes” about the current president and about the 47 percent that Republican leaders have winked at for seven years, can it?”
If the Republicans need a role model to end their groveling to bigotry, Tomasky has one:
There’s precedent for the courageous path, should anyone choose to take it. On Feb. 9, 1950, Joe McCarthy gave his famous speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, charging that communists were working in the State Department. The months that followed were very much like these last five months of the Trump ascendancy, as the official party stood mute in the face of the hysteria created by one of its number.
Then in June, one Republican senator said “enough.” Margaret Chase Smith of Maine was a freshman senator, having taken her husband’s seat. She took to the Senate floor and gave a 15-minute speech (PDF), which has gone down in history as her “Declaration of Conscience,” that all of us, starting with leading Republicans, ought to be reading this week. Two choice excerpts:
“As a Republican, I say to my colleagues on this side of the aisle that the Republican Party faces a challenge today that is not unlike the challenge which it faced back in Lincoln’s day. The Republican Party so successfully met that challenge that it emerged from the Civil War as the champion of a united nation–in addition to being a party which unrelentingly fought loose spending and loose programs.”
“The Democratic administration has greatly lost the confidence of the American people… Yet to displace it with a Republican regime embracing a philosophy that lacks political integrity or intellectual honesty would prove equally disastrous to the nation. The nation sorely needs a Republican victory. But I do not want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny–Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear.”
Tomasky notes that six of Sen. Chase’s fellow Republicans “signed with her a statement of principles that began: “We are Republicans. But we are Americans first.” So that’s what people can do in the face of extremism, if they want to.” Those seven Republicans stood up for American values and earned a place of honor in our history as genuine patriots who put their country before politics.
Where, we must ask, are their heirs?