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Max Boot: Trump is a character test for the GOP


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81123934USA Today:

This election is a battle for the soul of the Republican Party — and of the entire country.


When Ronald Reagan was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, he eloquently rejected the “politics of racial hatred and religious bigotry.” When the current Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, was given three chances by CNN on Sunday to reject an endorsement from Klan leader David Duke, he refused to do so — and used as excuse the astonishing claim that he didn’t know enough about the Klan. Trump subsequently blamed his failure on a malfunctioning earpiece, his version of “the dog ate my homework.”


This is part of a pattern with Trump. One study found that 62% of Trump’s retweets are of white supremacists. He calls Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “drug dealers,” insinuates that a judge is biased against him because the judge is Hispanic, and suggests that all Muslims are suspected terrorists who must be barred from entry into the United States. He doesn’t seem to realize that the U.S. counts on moderate Muslim allies such as Morocco, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Indonesia to fight terrorism. Branding all Muslims as terrorists is immoral and counterproductive. That's why his idea has been denounced by so many leading Republicans, including Trump’s newest endorser, Chris Christie.


Trump’s most extreme supporters go even further than their candidate. Just in the past few days on Twitter I’ve been called on Twitter “a traitor to america” and told that “Jews want Whites to think… Ethnic identity’s a vice.” It’s not hard to see why bigots are drawn to Trump: He says what they think. The mystery is why more ordinary, decent Americans are not appalled by Trump’s loathsome statements.


He is not a “tell it like it is” iconoclast. He is a bully, braggart, and boor. He knows nothing about public policy. (How will he get Mexico to pay for his wall? He never says.) What he does know is how to offend.


Trump says that John McCain, who volunteered for combat and spent 5½ years in hellish captivity rather than agree to an early release, is “not a hero.” Trump dodged the draft and said that not catching a venereal disease in the swinging ’70s was his “personal Vietnam”--“I felt like a great and very brave soldier.” He has mocked a disabled reporter. He has belittled women such as Rosie O’Donnell and Megyn Kelly in crude terms. He has called Ted Cruz a "pussy" and compared Ben Carson to a child molester.


Trump even threatens his opponents with violence. At a Feb. 23 rally in Las Vegas, he said he’d like “to punch a demonstrator in the face” and lamented that the man “wasn’t being carried out a stretcher.” “Be careful,” Trump often tells anyone speaking out against him, as if he were a mafia don. He wants to change the libel laws so that when journalists write “negative” articles about him, “we can sue them and win lots of money.”


Given Trump’s attitude toward criticism, it should be no surprise that he has nothing but kind words for the world’s worst dictators. He calls Vladimir Putin a “highly respected” leader while excusing his murders of journalist and dissidents (“I think our country does plenty of killing also”). He thought the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 showed “the power of strength.” Trump even praises Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s third-generation Stalinist dictator. He says “it’s incredible” how Kim was able to dispatch his political opponents. “You gotta give him credit.”


Any American who values our liberties has to be concerned about handing the Oval Office to a man of Trump’s extremist views and volatile temperament. Republicans who have spent years denouncing abuses of executive authority by President Obama will reveal their hypocrisy if they nominate a candidate who seems intent on emulating Vladimir Putin.


This is, in general, a moment of testing for Republicans. It is a character test. Do you believe in the open and inclusive party of Ronald Reagan? Or do you want a bigoted and extremist party in the image of Donald Trump? I have been a Republican my entire life, but I will never support Trump. If voters nominate him, they will confirm everything bad that Democrats have ever said about the GOP. A Trump nomination will splinter the party, sully its good name — and increase the risk that a dangerous demagogue will assume the most powerful position in the world.

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