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Republicans waffle as Trump is captured by the alt right

Republicans waffle as Trump is captured by the alt right
Top of the Ticket cartoo (David Horsey / Los Angeles Times)

Right now, there are enough waffles in the Republican Party to feed a congressional prayer breakfast. Enough wafflers, anyway.

Quite a few GOP members of Congress and electorally endangered senators are waffling from one contorted position to another, desperate to modulate their enthusiasm for Donald Trump in exactly the right way. They support their party’s presidential candidate, they will say, but cannot condone Trump’s loathsome lechery, clinging to an elusive distinction between the candidate and the man. Or like House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who now says he will not campaign for Trump and would prefer not to talk about him, but who has let his endorsement stand, even as the latest reports of unwelcome groping of female private parts fill the news.

The waffling has become more frantic as elected Republicans become convinced the man at the top of the GOP ticket has repulsed more than enough voters to sink his own campaign. They are trying not to be dragged down in Trump's undertow.

The problem is fairly straightforward for senators in swing states and representatives in the few remaining districts where both major political parties are competitive. To maintain their chances with moderate voters, they need to pretend Trump is running in some other country or some other party or some other reality that has nothing to do with them. For Republicans in safe seats, it is a little more complicated. How do they placate the vengeful Trump partisans who might turn on them in this or some subsequent election if they fail to show loyalty to the braggart billionaire? At the same time, how do they maintain even a hollow claim to being defenders of traditional morality and Christian family values? If there is one thing Trump is not, it is an exemplar of Christian morality and values.

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Perhaps Trump will rebound in the polls before election day — far stranger things have happened in this campaign — but, at the moment, conventional indicators show that Hillary Clinton will win on Nov. 8 and her margin of victory could even be great enough to swing the U.S. Senate to Democratic control and seriously carve into the current Republican majority in the House of Representatives.

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As he cut his ties to Trump, Ryan set his caucus members loose to do whatever needs to be done to keep their seats, whether that is embracing Trump the way he embraces attractive women who wander into his reach, or treating Trumpism like a virus that needs to be killed before it spreads through the entire party. Chances are, Ryan will maintain his majority, but many of the more moderate and rational conservatives trying to get reelected in swing districts will be gone and that means greater influence for the Looney Tunes wing that drove Ryan's predecessor, John Boehner, out of politics.

The nutty faction has already captured the Trump campaign. Trump himself is not necessarily driven by the same warped world view that drives the cabal of reactionary fabulists that has been dubbed as the alt right; he is a creature of his own narcissistic needs and obsessions. Yet, now that he has declared independence from Ryan and the other Republicans who have finally refused to be his apologists, he has put himself fully in the hands of people like his campaign CEO, Stephen Bannon, the former boss of the alt right mouthpiece, Breitbart News. In this, Trump is following, not leading, his most ardent fans. Those folks have become addicted to the mental meth and conspiracy crack pushed by alt right Savonarolas such as Alex Jones, the impresario of the crackpot “news” site Infowars. (Jones is the guy who is offering followers as much as $5,000 if they successfully get themselves in front of live TV cameras wearing one of his “Bill Clinton Rape” T-shirts.)

An addled alt rightist confronted vice presidential candidate Mike Pence at a campaign event in Iowa a few days ago. The woman told Pence she had spent endless hours scouring the Internet to keep informed (I’m pretty sure she was not just killing time poking around Pinterest) and was ready for a revolution if Hillary Clinton is elected.

Pence gave the would-be revolutionary a mild chiding, but the incident illustrates the problem that will face the Republican Party even if GOP majorities in Congress are retained. In defeat,  Trump may fade away (not likely!), but the party's electoral foundation will continue to rest on millions of voters who have brainwashed themselves into believing that people like Clinton and Barack Obama exude the sulfuric stench of Lucifer —  in the colorful characterization of Alex Jones — and that armed rebellion is far preferable to any tiny compromise with Democrats, a.k.a, the spawn of Satan.

How do rational Republicans waffle their way out of that?

Follow me at @davidhorsey on Twitter

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