Donald Trump Paul Ryan
Credit: Office of the Speaker/Wikimedia Commons

Imagine your house is on fire. Do you reach for a bucket of water or gasoline? That shouldn’t be an agonizing decision, but for American politicians these days, it is an open question, with a majority of them seemingly leaning in the direction of the gasoline.

After the Republican candidate Troy Balderson’s squaker victory in Ohio’s 12th congressional district, Ron Brownstein, the political insider’s political insider, posed the essential questions: Did Donald Trump’s appearance in central Ohio days before the election get Balderson over the finish line? Or did it actually hurt him with suburban voters? Did Ohio governor John Kasich’s endorsement help Balderson? Or was Kasich, the mainstream media’s favorite Mugwump Republican, an electoral negative for the Republican base that turns out in a special election?

Those questions (which were never quite answered) setup an extended musing about the dilemma for NeverTrump Republicans like Kasich: If Trump is poison for America, should they continue to campaign for GOP candidates in the hope that they will be a force for moderation and sanity, and thus maintain some credibility within the party Or is Trump so dangerous, so transcendently awful, that they should support Democratic candidates and thereby lose their political home?

This dilemma reminds me of a similar one that must have faced Reichstag deputies in 1933: Do I vote for Hermann Göring’s to be president of the Reichstag, as he might be a moderating force in Hitler’s government, or do I throw my vote and influence away by casting my ballot for the token social democrat?

That is an outlandish and sarcastic historical analogy, perhaps, but it’s useful in morally clarifying the situation. How can electing more Republicans do anything but strengthen and vindicate Trump? If there is one thing we know, with vanishingly few exceptions, it is that congressional Republicans will vote in lockstep for Trump’s agenda—every time.

Trump did not fall from the sky onto the hapless GOP. From Devin Nunes to Robert Goodlatte to Mitch McConnell himself, their congressional faction is riddled with bad actors who have enabled Trump since his day one, including by interfering in and obstructing investigations into his dealings with Russia. Exactly how will helping Republicans, the very people who got us into this mess, maintain a congressional majority diminish their influence?

Trump is a moral disaster for America, and what’s more, one who has his finger on the nuclear button. What is more important: one’s country or one’s “credibility” in the Republican Party? John Kasich and dozens of other Republican elected officials have made a gamble that could be naïve or, just maybe, extremely cynical and self-serving. They think they can salvage the party by playing the inside game before the country is too severely damaged.

Having your state’s industries devastated by Trump’s tariffs may be a bad thing, but so is subverting our nation’s alliances and throwing global trade into chaos. Moreover, forcibly separating toddlers from their mothers and subjecting them to intolerable conditions may be a crime—and that little Russia matter gets more distasteful by the day. All of these injustices will require drastic actions to preserve the dignity of the American experiment. But just don’t ask any Republicans to risk being ostracized by their old buddies merely for the sake of their country.

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