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Chris Honoré: The GOP's moral cul-de-sac

And so the Republicans find themselves in a moral cul-de-sac. At an ethical crossroads. The party leadership emphatically said for months that Donald Trump would not be the last nominee standing after what was a bruising presidential primary. They referred to him as a “madman” and a “cancer on conservatism” that must be excised. Others explicitly accused him of not being a “true conservative.” It was even hinted, with some tongue in cheek, that he was a ringer for the Democrats and in daily consultation with Bill Clinton.

The conservative cognoscenti cringed at his seemingly irresponsible, schoolyard statements and proposals and loudly said so, including Bush, Perry, Cruz, Ryan, Jindal and Rubio. Some members of the party, led by Mitt Romney, organized a “Stop Trump!” coalition while insisting that he would fail to get the required delegates to secure the nomination. Plan B would be a contested convention.

When Trump won in Indiana and became the GOP’s presumptive nominee, the conservative leadership was rendered speechless.

His win, however, has put conservatives in what I believe is (or should be) a morally untenable position. What do all those Republican leaders, who spoke so loudly and unequivocally about Trump as a train wreck personified, now do when faced with the fact that more than 10 million GOP voters cast ballots for him. When the last primary vote is counted he will have exceeded the 10.8 million votes cast for George W. Bush, who held the record.

To now listen to conservatives’ tortured justifications and rationales for supporting Trump poses the question: Were their principled positions against his candidacy mere weather vanes, and when push comes to shove do they possess no core principles, just expediency as a default position? Is it enough to say, that’s just politics?

But there is one meta-question that should have aroused concern and required a response at the outset of Trump’s campaign, and that is his promise that if elected president he will immediately deport 11 million undocumented immigrants.

That statement alone should have immediately disqualified him as a candidate and the rejection by the Republican Party and the American people should have been unequivocal. It is a morally reprehensible proposal and all the outrageousness that has followed — with the exception of Trump’s Muslim ban — pales by comparison. How can Republicans of any decency support a candidate who advocates such a policy? It would be the equivalent of walking through a field of tall wheat with a scythe and leveling all within reach. How could conservatives of good conscience not be repelled by the suggestion that America do such a thing? How could 10 million-plus primary voters agree with such a position? Consider that the average undocumented immigrant has been in the U.S. for 10 years or more and likely has children who are citizens.

But putting the humanitarian aspects of Trump’s deportation plan aside, consider such a policy in purely financial terms. According to the Center for American Progress, it would cost the U.S. $285 billion over five years to deport 11 million undocumented people. That includes apprehension, detention (30 days), legal processing and, finally, returning them to their country of origin. There is also the loss of economic activity, amounting to $2.6 trillion in GDP over 10 years. It’s the equivalent of wiping out the gross domestic product of Texas annually. Some states, like California, with a high percentage of undocumented workers, would take a huge hit in lost revenue, felt mainly in agriculture, construction, retail and hospitality. It’s been reported that in 2010 undocumented immigrants paid an estimated $10.6 billion in state and local taxes.

As well, to round these people up would require America becoming essentially a police state wherein profiling and discrimination and inherent racism would be an outcome, one in which papers would be required on demand. The consequences, both intended and unintended, are chilling.

To propose that this singular policy be implemented should have disqualified Trump at the outset. That it didn’t says a great deal not only about the GOP but about the base of his party. That he won, actually won, astonishes. What happens now?

Chris Honoré of Ashland is a Daily Tidings columnist.