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Chris Honore’: That was then, this is now

There is likely not enough time or therapy for the Republican Party to get a solid handle on what has just occurred as a result of a tumultuous and often virulent presidential primary. It began in the realm of the surreal when Donald Trump rode down the escalator in Trump Tower and declared his candidacy and it has only gotten stranger and more improbable.

Against all predictions and expectations, Republicans have chosen Donald Trump as their presumptive nominee for the presidency. So sayeth Indiana. Exit left, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, the last two challengers left standing.

Stunning. Recall that Trump is the guy who began his political career by attempting to delegitimize Barack Obama by giving credence to the belief that President Obama was not an American citizen but was born in Kenya. In other words, he was one of the original “birthers.” He claimed to have sent some of “his people” to Hawaii to gather corroborating evidence. He now refuses to discuss it.

For some Republicans, it feels like the G.O.P has just chosen Darth Vader as their candidate and has gone over to the dark side. Ted Cruz, the last best hope for many conservatives, made one final appeal to Indiana voters to not give Trump a victory, pointing out that Trump was “utterly amoral” and a “serial philanderer.” The word narcissist was often in the mix.

For other conservatives, they have constructed an elaborate justification for supporting their new standard bearer and are prepared to board the Trump train, with jaws clenched perhaps, but still … . After all, as part of his victory speech in Indiana, The Donald did say, “We’re going to start winning bigly, believe me.” Earlier in the day, before the Hoosier votes were counted, Trump commented that Cruz’s father was somehow connected to the JFK assassination and Lee Harvey Oswald. At least The National Enquirer said so and Donald felt obliged to pass the story along.

But for those veteran Republicans who are reluctantly getting on the Trump train, well, they can’t help recalling 1964 and the Barry Goldwater–Lyndon Johnson presidential contest. The similarities cause conservatives to wake in the dead of night in a cold sweat. It seems that every 50 years or so, Republicans have this impulse to throw themselves off a political cliff and give the nomination to someone who is totally unelectable. That was Goldwater in ’64.

He said things that made the party cognoscenti blanch, his signature comment being, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Extremism was Goldwater’s wheelhouse and he often argued that he wouldn’t take using tactical nuclear weapons off the table when it came to winning in Vietnam. He once said he would like to lob a nuke into the Kremlin’s men’s room. But then, he was a hardline anti-communist. He also opposed any civil rights legislation and questioned the efficacy of Social Security. President Eisenhower commented that he would vote for the Republican Party and not Goldwater. The Ku Klux Klan did unequivocally endorse Goldwater.

The '64 moderate Republicans (Nelson Rockefeller for example) organized a stop Goldwater movement that fizzled. In response, Goldwater said, “Sometimes I think this country would be better off if we could just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea,” along with all those liberals and moderate conservatives, I assume.

Goldwater got shellacked in ’64 in an unprecedented landslide that gave Johnson 61 percent of the vote while Democrats increased their margins in both the House and the Senate.

Republicans fear a similar fate for Trump. But then, again, The Donald is wilier than Wile E. Coyote. So liberals and independents should keep worrying. It’s not over until it’s over. What if America’s electorate mirrors those Republican voters who enthusiastically nominated Trump? Could such a thing happen?

If you had asked me last summer if The Donald had even an outside chance of securing his party’s nomination I would have said, emphatically, “No.” Deport 11 million undocumented people? Who says stuff like that? And yet, here we are. This election will be “bigly.”

Chris Honore’ is an Ashland writer.