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Chris Honoré: Trump – the creation of the GOP

Shortly after his liberation from a German concentration camp in 1945, Pastor Martin Niemoller wrote the following:

“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

His words are a reminder that when we are confronted with bigotry and racism, we cannot find safety in silence, for ultimately our failure to step forward in protest will return to haunt us.

It is not a stretch to apply the words of Pastor Niemoller to what has taken place within the Republican Party, dating back to the 1950s and 1960s, when Richard Nixon turned to the South in an attempt to get votes and used the success of the civil rights movement and the resentment it engendered in Southern whites as a cynical wedge issue. It was called the “Southern strategy.”

Since Donald Trump first declared what was then thought to be an improbable candidacy for the presidency, no matter what he said, no matter how outrageous and disturbing, the GOP leadership has remained silent. Until now.

When Trump, the first “birther,” opined repeatedly some years ago that President Obama was not born in America but in Kenya, no one in his party took exception.

When Trump referred to undocumented Mexicans crossing our border as drug dealers and rapists, the Republicans said nothing. When he declared he would round up 11 million “illegals” and deport them, the conservative leadership fell mute, despite the horrific images inherent in his statement. When questioned by the press about its feasibility, Trump said it would simply require good management.

When he insisted that John McCain, who refused to leave the Hanoi Hilton before his men, was no hero because he was captured, no voice in the GOP took umbrage or disagreed.

When he demeaned and mocked a reporter for his disability, the silence from the Republican National Committee was deafening.

When Trump suggested that all Muslims, citizen or not, be kept out of the U.S. until “we find out what the hell is going on,” there was no blowback from the GOP leadership. As part of an anti-Muslim riff, he insisted that thousands of Muslims cheered as the Twin Towers fell. No one in his party disputed this fantasy.

When he suggested that the families of terrorists should be killed as well as the terrorists, the GOP averted its gaze.

When his comments were misogynistic, stating that Carly Fiorina’s face was unattractive and implied that Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly was menstruating during the debate, Republicans fell silent.

When a protester appeared at a political rally, Trump shouted that he would like to “punch him in the face.” He repeatedly encourages the anger and hostility that ripple through his crowds. The Republican response: no comment.

But now, suddenly, as the Republican Party has watched in disbelief as Trump wins primary after primary, they have grown alarmed. Not because they took exception to what he has said over these past months, but because they are beginning to understand that he might in fact win the Republican nomination, and they fear, above all else, that they could lose the election for the White House as well as Senate seats.

Suddenly they are concerned (Mitt Romney) that Trump hesitated to disavow a white supremacist. Now they’re worried about his foreign and economic policies (or lack thereof). Putin is his BFF. Desperate, they have begun mimicking Trump’s trash-talking manner (Marco Rubio, showing a profound lack of character, responded in kind to Trump’s ad hominem attacks) as they appeal to GOP voters to cast their ballots for any Republican candidate other than Donald Trump.

What is taking place now is unprecedented. Republicans obstructing their own front-runner at all costs. But this panic does not stem from the GOP’s conscience — the GOP has worked the mean streets of elections for decades — but from a profound moral expediency.

Chris Honoré of Ashland is a Daily Tidings columnist.