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Chris Honoré: Few profiles in courage

To say that the Republicans in their support of Donald Trump have entered into a Faustian bargain may be a bit hyperbolic, but I confess it feels like that.

Over just the past several weeks they have heard Trump extol the virtues of Putin while supporting his right to annex Crimea, and insist that there are no Russian troops in Ukraine (there are). He has gone on to say that if elected president he would consider lifting all sanctions against Russia while praising Putin as a superb leader. Trump’s new BFF. Astonishing. Putin is not now and will not be a friend of the U.S.

He has denigrated the parents of a fallen soldier, Khizr Khan and his wife, Ghazala Khan, because they took exception to his proposed Muslim ban and suggested that Mrs. Khan stood silent because her faith would not permit her to speak (not because she feared she would be overcome by emotion).

Trump’s latest declaration is that the coming November election will be rigged and the outcome therefore in question. Unless he wins, of course.

To the consternation of the Republican National Committee he has refused to endorse Paul Ryan, John McCain and Kelly Ayotte as they prepare for their summer primary elections. This is unprecedented.

I assume at this point you’ve heard or read his previous comments, delivered at rallies, on Fox News, and on Twitter. There have been so many that the earlier statements begin to fade as new riffs take their place. Briefly, recall the mocking of the New York Times reporter for his handicap, or the claim that he watched thousands of Muslims cheering as the Trade Center buildings fell. There were the threats of physical harm to rally protestors and the promise, if elected, to deport 11 million undocumented aliens. He will cancel the Iran nuclear deal and repeal the Affordable Care Act. And kill the families of terrorists. He has also advocated the use of torture such as waterboarding and “worse.” It has been a stunning stream of free-association positions, most framed by ad hominem attacks against his opponents, Democratic or Republican.

But for months — pre-convention and certainly post — I have wondered when Trump’s comments will reach critical mass and the Republican leadership will step forward and withdraw their endorsement of Trump, whose presence must feel like a loose cannon on a pitching political deck.

To date the Republicans have issued repeated statements taking exception to positions such as the Muslim ban, or the sustained disparagement of Mr. and Mrs. Khan, a Gold Star family. What they have failed to do is disavow this man unequivocally, which would be a act of conscience.

It’s hard to imagine that the GOP doesn’t believe Trump is “unfit to serve” as our 45th president. Yet they fall back on the weak rationale that Trump is better than Hillary Clinton and so they shrug and carry on. Or they turn toward the hypothetical, referencing the Supreme Court nominations that the next president will likely make, thereby aligning themselves with Trump’s promise of placing at least one Antonin Scalia on the court.

President Obama stated in a recent news conference that the Republican’s recrimination of Trump’s comments ring hollow. “The question they have to ask themselves is: If you are repeatedly having to say in very strong terms that what he said is unacceptable, why are you still endorsing him?”

That is the seminal question. And the answer to that question defines what has become for the Republicans a test of character and courage. At what point do these representatives step forward and reject a man who does not reflect either the GOP’s values or those of our nation? Their response at this moment speaks volumes.

Mike Pence, newly minted vice presidential candidate, who some months back strongly opposed Trump’s ban on Muslims, has now decided he is aligned with that point of view. When asked at a town hall meeting what he thought of Trump’s response to the Khans, he said, with a straight face, “Mr. Trump supports our soldiers and supports our veterans like no other leader in my lifetime.” And so it goes.

Chris Honoré of Ashland is a Daily Tidings columnist.