The PJ Tatler

Can You Remain a Republican with Trump as the Nominee?

It was once unthinkable. But increasingly, the notion of Donald Trump securing the Republican Party’s nomination for president seems not just plausible, but likely. National Review joins the growing chorus of resignation:

In the weeks following his campaign launch, many Republicans fretted not that Trump would win the nomination, but that his incendiary remarks about illegal immigrants would irreparably harm the GOP brand. (The former Bush-administration press secretary Ari Fleischer compared Trump to a roadside accident. “Everybody pulls over to see the mess,” he told Politico in late June. “And the risk for the party is he tarnishes everybody.”) Now, many members of the GOP establishment are concerned less that Trump will hurt the brand than that he’ll become its standard-bearer.

That’s not just a problem for “the establishment.” Small-government conservatives and libertarians have nothing to gain from a Trump nomination either. The looming possibility presents such Republicans with heart-wrenching questions: Can you follow Trump? Can you march under his flag? If he is the standard-bearer, can you conform?

Speaking personally and candidly, I’m not sure I can. Trump’s views, expressed ideology, and personal behavior stand in such contrast to everything I respect and believe in that he might as well be a Democrat. There’s no need to retread the many ways in which he truly resembles a candidate from the other party. Suffice it to say I cannot today imagine carrying water for his candidacy.

Fortunately, there’s more to being a Republican than supporting the party’s presidential candidate. There will be contests at the state and local level with opportunities to advance conservative and libertarian principles. Rather than take one’s ball and go home, activists put off by Trump may shift their focus down-ticket.

That said, those down-ticket races and every Republican initiative throughout the nation will be overshadowed by Trump’s domineering presence if he is the nominee. Trump will become the one-word answer offered to discredit appeals to smaller government, to say nothing of outreach to non-traditional constituencies. As the standard-bearer, he will become the object people look to for an example of what a Republican is. That’s going to make being a Republican significantly harder for those who share little to nothing in common with The Donald.