Donald Trump has locked his former Republican opponents into a moral Catch-22.
Since that sentient waste disposal plant declared his candidacy, Republican presidential candidates have had to juggle a number of competing interests. At once, the candidates have had to figure out how to condemn his hateful rhetoric and irritating demeanor, all while avoiding seeming petty and alienating their white, often racist base.
Now, as Trump gains steam and an ostensible lock on the nomination, these same candidates—who have mostly dropped out—have had to readjust their morals and allegiances. Should they stand by their party and, necessarily, the aching gizzard who is currently leading it, even after Trump has certainly humiliatingly bullied them on the national stage? Should they risk becoming Trump’s personal verbal punching bag and the next Joseph Goebbels for a potential cabinet position? Or, does their forced political unimportance give them new kind of freedom to condemn a movement that’s increasingly visible as centered on hate?
This is a new archetypal test of moral sturdiness. Here’s how everyone is doing. (Not great.)
“He offers a barking carnival act that can be best described as Trumpism: a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued,” Perry said in a July speech. “Let no one be mistaken: Donald Trump’s candidacy is a cancer on conservatism, and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised and discarded.”
“He put glasses on so people will think he’s smart,” Trump said in July. “It just doesn’t work! People can see through the glasses.”
“Demeaning people of Hispanic heritage is not just ignorant, it betrays the example of Christ,” Perry said in his announcement that he would withdraw from the race. “We can enforce our laws and our borders, and we can love all who live within our borders, without betraying our values.”
And: “It is time to elevate our debate from divisive name-calling, from soundbites without solutions, and start discussing how we will make the country better for all if a conservative is elected president.”
He later said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”: “Whoever comes out of the Republican field, I’m going to be supportive.”
In response to the insult, Trump said, “Oh finally, I can attack. Finally.”
“Wisconsin’s doing terribly,” he continued. “First of all, it’s in turmoil, the roads are a disaster.” He continued with state-specific insults.
“Some of you might be confused, dare I say, upset, about what’s happening in the presidential election, but I want to offer you some enthusiasm, some optimism today,” Walker said at CPAC, not mentioning Trump’s name. “No matter what’s happening there, the conservative movement is alive and well in states all across America.”
“Donald Trump is for Donald Trump, he believes in nothing other than himself,” he said in September. “Issues don’t mean anything to him... Donald Trump is a narcissist and an egomaniac.”
“He hasn’t read the Bible,” he said at the Values Voter Summit that same month. “You know that he has not read the Bible because his name is not in the Bible.”
“The GOP establishment is done for,” he said in a March interview on MSNBC, before arguing against a brokered convention. “The reality is, you can do the math. He has done very, very well. It is exactly what is wrong with the GOP establishment and it ignoring the will of the voters.”
And then: “If it comes down to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, I would certainly support Donald Trump as the Republican nominee,” he continued. “I didn’t wake this morning a big fan of Donald Trump. I hope it’s not him... I think Donald Trump’s wrong on a whole host of issues.”
“I don’t know who you are and I don’t know why you like this guy,” he said to Trump supporters during a December CNN interview. “He’s a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot. He doesn’t represent my party. He doesn’t represent the values that the men and women who wear the uniform are fighting for... He’s the ISIL man of the year.”
“I think Lindsey Graham is a disgrace, and I think you have one of the worst representatives of any representative in the United States, and I don’t think he should run,” he said about Graham at an event in his home state, South Carolina, after the Senator had already dropped out of the presidential race. “I don’t think he could run for dog catcher in this state and win again. I really don’t. Other than that, I think he’s wonderful.”
“He’s one of the dumbest human beings I’ve ever seen... The guy is a nut job.”
In January: “If you nominate Trump and Cruz I think you’d get the same outcome. Whether it’s death by being shot or poisoning, does it really matter?... Trump’s domestic and foreign policy is gibberish.”
In February: “I think Donald Trump would be a pathetic commander-in-chief, unequal in temperament, judgment and understanding of who our friends are,”
In March: “Looking back, we should have basically kicked him out of the party... The more you know about Donald Trump, the less likely you are to vote for him.”
He called Trump’s criticism of John McCain “disrespectful not just to POW’s, it’s disrespectful to every veteran.”
“Let me say I respect that he’s maintained his position. I disagree with it but I want to be also as clear as I can be. I’m not getting into this race to react to everything Donald Trump says.”
Trump has hired Huckabee’s daughter as a senior adviser.
“Does anybody think Donald Trump is a racist? I don’t,” he said in March.
Huckabee has since campaigned for Trump.
Paul has called Trump “Gollum,” “a fake conservative,” and “a delusional narcissist and an orange-faced windbag,” and has said that he vows to spend “every waking hour,” trying to keep him out of the White House.
“If the dirt doesn’t go away, it will keep scratching your cornea until eventually it blinds you with all its filth. A speck of dirt is way more qualified to be president,” Paul said on The Nightly Show.
“I’m not sure I would say Trump is Hitler—Goebbels maybe,” he continued.
“Recently, Rand Paul called me and asked me to play golf. I easily beat him on the golf course and will even more easily beat him now, in the world in the politics. Senator Paul does not mention that after trouncing him in golf I made a significant donation to the eye center with which he is affiliated,” Trump said in a statement to the Washington Post.
“I feel sorry for the great people of Kentucky who are being used as a back up to Senator Paul’s hopeless attempt to become President of the United States...Rand’s campaign is a total mess, and as a matter of fact, I didn’t know he had anybody left in his campaign to make commercials who are not currently under indictment!”
Paul has refused to publicly endorse a candidate, but noted that he worries more about Trump than Cruz. “The main reason I do is that I believe he wants more power to come to him and ‘he’ll take care of us all’ if we just give him more power, but I’m from a limited government tradition.”
“All that glitters is not gold,” he said in July. “He may be tough on the border, on a lot of other immigration issues, but he’s not a conservative on these things.” He has also said he doesn’t attack other candidates.
In 2011, on Fox News, he called Santorum a “loser.” Other than that, not much.
Although he has campaigned for Marco Rubio, Santorum chose to appear on stage with Trump (and Huckabee).
When asked by Breitbart News if he believes that Trump is a sincere conservative, he said, “Past is prologue and if you look at someone’s past, it’s legit. [But] people change and that’s a good thing. I want to encourage everybody to be more conservative.”
“There are folks in this race who don’t care about what the law says because they’re used to being able to just fire people indiscriminately on television,” Christie said of Trump in December.
Christie has also accused Trump of acting like a teenager re: his ongoing beef with Fox News.
“What’s that tell you about what we can expect if things go sideways when you go into the Oval Office? What are you going to do? Go upstairs in the residence and say I’m not playing?” Christie asked in January. “You know, Vladimir Putin isn’t being nice to me, I’m not going to return his call? The press isn’t being nice to me, I’m not going to hold any more press conferences?”
Trump has said that Christie knew about lane closings on the George Washington Bridge (Bridgegate) before they happened:
“He knew about it, he totally knew about it.”
(He continued to crap on Christie’s presence in New Jersey even while Christie was sitting on stage campaigning for him.)
Christie has since, confusingly, endorsed Trump. “You need a strong, tough leader to restore America’s greatness,” he said.
On his business record: “You were forced to file for bankruptcy not once, not twice, but four times... Why should we trust you to manage the finances of this nation any differently than you manage the finances of your casinos?”
She also once repeated after an eight-year-old: “Donald Trump’s a moron. Out of the mouths of babes.”
Famously, Trump said, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?” He has since clarified that he was talking about her “persona.”
Fiorina has thrown her support behind Ted Cruz, saying, “I said the week that Donald Trump announced, he does not represent me, he does not represent our party, and I do not think he can be our nominee.”
She also said, “Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are that [Washington establishment] system. They’re two sides of the same coin. Neither one of them will reform the system. They will take advantage of the system as they have all their lives.”
“I denounced many of [Trump’s] ideas, including the idea of some sort of federal deportation force, that he’s gonna put together. Some sort of local, domestic organization that’s gonna root people out,” he said on NewsMax TV in November. “I just don’t agree with that kind of thing. I’ve said it’s fascist talk.”
“This is not a serious candidate for president, I don’t know what he’s showing the polls,” he said.
Probably nothing :(
When asked on CNBC’s Squawk Box whether he would be satisfied with Trump as the Republican nominee, he said: “I intend to endorse and support the Republican candidate for president because the alternative is either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders,” calling them “socialists.”
“He’s all over the map, misinformed at best and preying on people at worse,” he said in a November interview, noting that he would support him because “anybody is better than Hillary Clinton.”
Oh god, so much.
Bush has been quiet, but did schedule meetings with the three (at the time) remaining candidates: John Kasich, Ben Carson, and Cruz.
In February, when asked if Trump would win the nomination, Carson said voters weren’t “quite that dense” and would not make “a very very bad mistake.”
He has also called Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims “unconstitutional,” and indirectly responded some of his other decisions, but otherwise largely stayed out of the verbal sparring.
“Carson is an enigma to me,” Trump said at a November rally, calling him “pathological.”
“If you’re pathological—there’s no cure for that, folks. There’s no cure for that,” Trump said. “If you’re a child molester—a sick puppy—a child molester, there’s no cure for that. There’s only one cure, we don’t want to talk about that cure. That’s the ultimate cure. Well, there’s death, and there’s the other thing.”
Also, so much stuff, including:
Carson has since endorsed Trump, even though he has made it clear that he would much rather not—and only did so to get a role in the Trump Administration.
The former candidate has also basically forgiven Trump for calling him a child molester: “If it were about me, yes, I would be outraged, saying, ‘No way I can support this,’ but it’s not about me,” he said. “[Trump] was concerned about the fact that he couldn’t shake me. I understand politics, and particularly the politics of personal destruction, and you have to admit to some degree it did work. A lot of people believed him.”
Rubio embarked upon a creative razzing campaign against Trump, wondering if the candidate wet his pants, calling him a “con artist,” “not a tough guy,” “a lunatic,” saying he flies on “Hair Force One,” and is going to make America “orange again.”
“He looked like he just came out of a swimming pool, he was a mess. I’ve never seen a human being sweat like this man sweats,” he said in February.
There is also that whole “Marco Rubio sweats and is thirsty” thing.
Nothing yet, although on Saturday he vowed to support the nominee, “because I still believe that Donald Trump will not be the nominee.” Does anyone want to take an over/under on his endorsement?
Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Chris Christie, and Ben Carson have all swallowed their manageably small amounts of pride and decided to join the dark side. Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Jim Gilmore, and probably Scott Walker are going to be supportive through gritted teeth. Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul, and Carly Fiorina (and maybe Marco Rubio?) would sooner die than support this particular idiot. And Jeb Bush is staging his own little quiet, contact-wearing rebellion.
Images via Getty.