Home 2016 elections How the Media Must Follow Up on the GOP’s “For Trump, Because...

How the Media Must Follow Up on the GOP’s “For Trump, Because Hillary” Gambit


Over a month ago, I spoke here about how the GOP was “cashing in” on its years of demonizing Hillary.

By waving in front of the public eye the image of the devil they’ve spent years developing – Benghazi Benghazi Benghazi – they distract their followers from the fact that the candidate they are endorsing has been displaying a degree of belligerence, bigotry, as well as an extraordinary indifference to truth, that, in any healthy polity, should automatically disqualify him from the highest office in the land.

Yesterday, Paul Ryan used this same Hillary-ploy to dodge a challenge to his support for Trump. At a CNN town hall, Ryan

was asked a question by Zachary Marcone, a Republican who said he couldn’t support Trump because he is “openly racist.” “Can you tell me, how can you morally justify your support for this kind of candidate?” Ryan didn’t address the premise of the question, reiterating his stance that opposing Trump amounts to supporting Clinton.

“It is a binary choice,” Ryan said at a CNN town hall hosted by Jake Tapper. “It is either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.”

If the media allow the matter to stop there, they’ve abdicated their responsibility. A follow-up question is required:

What do you imagine Hillary would do as president that would be so bad that it would be worse for the United States than …[and here some statement of the things even Republicans, including Paul Ryan, have said about Trump’s liabilities– the con man, the bigotry, the disregard of our constitutional system and the rule of law, etc.]”

This question should be a problem for the Republicans, because Hillary has been so mainstream that any really dark scenario is implausible, and any really plausible scenario will not be as scary as a president Trump.

If the response from a Republican is of the terrible-but-implausible variety, the media follow-up question should be along the lines of: “What is there in Hillary’s history to suggest that this is really a scenario you or anyone else should worry about?”

If the response is of the plausible-but-not-terrible variety, the media follow-up question should be along the lines of: “Would that really be worse than a president who…[again with images of Trump]?”

The likes of Ryan should not be allowed to get away with just gesturing toward Hillary as if everyone should recognize how unthinkable that choice should be.

It is clear enough what Ryan (and many other Republicans) are trying to do. They are trying to protect their own political prospects in a difficult situation, at whatever the moral costs. In particular, they are trying to carve out a position that allows them, on the one hand, to avoid alienating Republican supporters of Trump, while at the same time, on the other hand, avoiding getting so close to Trump that he contaminates them with his many moral and political shortcomings.

The demonized image of Hillary in the minds of the Republican base makes such middle ground possible.

The truth should make that make that middle ground less tenable, and good questions from media interviewers should help bring out that truth.


  • Quizzical

    The Republicans who are reluctantly supporting Trump are likely assuming that (1) Trump doesn’t really mean or believe half the things that he is saying, as he just does it to garner free media exposure, and (2) Trump in office will follow the advice of his chief of staff and cabinet officers anyway, as Trump himself often says that when elected he will bring in the best people, etc.

    We’ve seen this movie before, with Reagan, who was a more likable leading man. It turned out that Reagan really did believe he could simultaneously cut taxes and have a huge military build-up. Likewise, Trump probably believes that he can simultaneously (1) cut taxes, (2) have a huge military buildup, (3) escalate the war against ISIL and crush them, (4) renegotiate all of our trade agreements, and (5) repeal the Affordable Care Act.

    • Andy Schmookler

      My guess, Quizzical, is that the Republicans supporting Trump do not depend on any such benign assumptions. We have seen for some years now how widespread in the GOP is the willingness to sacrifice the good of the nation for the sake of political advantage.

      In most situations, that has meant the political advantage of the Party to which they have hitched their star. The nomination of Trump is an outcome that people like Paul Ryan very much wished to avoid, fearing that it could be a disaster for the Party. But since that is a fait accompli, the congruence of partisan opportunism and personal opportunism becomes strained.

      So the question simply becomes: how to navigate an unfortunate situation with minimal damage to one’s own prospects, and minimal damage to the long-run fortunes of the Party.

      I doubt that any illusions about Trump, or beliefs about how the nation would be OK under Trump, are necessary to explain the approach of these pols — to simultaneously support and take distance from the toxic candidate.

      And again, the idea that “President Hillary would be unspeakably bad, so I am being both a great patriot and a good conservative to support Trump” offers a way to paper over the moral bankruptcy of a GOP rallying around this wholly unsuitable proto-fascist the base has foisted upon it.

  • Mike Judge

    We’ve seen the worst of Hillary Clinton with the email server. Her desire to keep information away from her political enemies led to a establishing a server that nobody knew existed – not your poster for having a government open and transparent to the public.