Profiles in cowardice

There’s lots of prominent, elite, Republicans who know that Trump is totally, dangerously, unqualified to serve as president.  They’ve pretty much said so, but many are refusing to take the next logical step of endorsing Hillary Clinton.  In case they didn’t notice, elections are zero-sum games.  Hard to endorse the candidate from the opposition party?  Sure.  Donald Trump becoming president?  Surely, that’s got to be worse.  Seth Masket eviscerates Bob Gates for his cowardice in failing to follow through in the logic of his assessments:

Hillary Clinton, Gates writes, has “credibility issues,” and has been silent on some important matters. But Donald Trump “has been cavalier about the use of nuclear weapons” and is “willfully ignorant about the rest of the world.” “The world we confront,” Gates writes, “is too perilous and too complex to have as president a man who believes he, and he alone, has all the answers and has no need to listen to anyone.”

Gates then concludes his piece with these two paragraphs:

Mrs. Clinton has time before the election to address forthrightly her trustworthiness, to reassure people about her judgment, to demonstrate her willingness to stake out one or more positions on national security at odds with her party’s conventional wisdom, and to speak beyond generalities about how she would deal with China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, the Middle East — and international trade. Whether and how she addresses these issues will, I believe, affect how many people vote — including me.

At least on national security, I believe Mr. Trump is beyond repair. He is stubbornly uninformed about the world and how to lead our country and government, and temperamentally unsuited to lead our men and women in uniform. He is unqualified and unfit to be commander-in-chief.

In other words, Gates has determined that his own party’s nominee is a danger to the country and the world and must not become president. But he has refused to back the only person standing in Trump’s way, waiting to see see whether she can “address forthrightly her trustworthiness.”

This is an absurd and irresponsible stance for two reasons. First, Clinton has been in public life since the early 1990s. I don’t know what exactly Gates is looking for in her. But if he hasn’t seen it in her eight years as first lady, eight years as a senator, and four years as secretary of state, he’s not going to see it in seven more weeks of campaigning.

Second, as Gates well knows, one of these two people will be sworn in as president next January. The options are on the table, and the contest is close. If Gates truly believes, as he says, that Trump is a menace to the nation and the world, there is only one candidate who can stop him.[emphasis mine] Gates’ endorsement of Clinton would have been taken very seriously, particularly by Republican voters and elites who are currently weighing options for Election Day, such as staying home or voting for a third-party candidate. But Gates won’t go that far, thus joining the ranks of Republican leaders who officially oppose Trumpbut won’t actually endorse Clinton.

This is precisely the mistake that many Republican leaders took during the primaries and caucuses. They saw Trump as an irresponsible man and a potentially disastrous nominee, and proclaimed that they would never back him. But they were either unable or unwilling to back a credible alternative, such as Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, or John Kasich. Perhaps they slept better at night as a result, but Trump still became their nominee.

I’m thinking that if after the debates Trump is, somehow, still hanging even with Clinton in the polls, we might actually see a little more political courage from Republicans such as Gates (here’s looking at you, Mitt Romney) to take the next and super-important step of actually endorsing Clinton.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

8 Responses to Profiles in cowardice

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    It was their cowardice that led to Trump – letting the Tea Party types gather strength without denouncing the second amendment “remedy” types, tolerating voter suppression, failing to repair civil rights laws after the Supremes gutted it, allowing the birther and other conspiracy theorists to flourish without challenge, failing to rein in a Congressman who yelled out “You lie!” during the President’s State of the Union speech and much more.
    Why expect such people to suddenly become brave?

  2. Mike in Chapel Hill says:

    Prepare yourself for President Trump. Hillary Clinton is perhaps the worst campaigner in the history of US Presidential elections. Maybe any national election. How in the hell can a lying, dictatorial, greedy, ignorant, POS like Donald Trump be within spitting distance of any major party candidate?!? There is going to a steady trickle of leaked emails and innuendo about Hillary Clinton in every week between now and the election. Clinton and her gaggle of incompetent campaign advisors will constantly be tottering on their heels trying to bat down the chaff that the Trumpists, Russian, and right wing media will throw at her. She’ll never have a chance to work on her image, assuming she was even capable of improving her likeability.

    • Steve Greene says:

      “How in the hell can a lying, dictatorial, greedy, ignorant, POS like Donald Trump be within spitting distance of any major party candidate?!?” Ummm, because partisanship is super potent and he is a major party candidate? And, all that media stuff I’ve been writing about.

      • Mike in Chapel Hill says:

        And Hillary Clinton appears to be singularly unable to get anyone to like her, to put forth a vision that is appealing, to deflect the craziest kinds of criticism……and on and on. She and her people apparently don’t know anything about managing the media. I am going to vote for her, but mainly because Trump is a disaster. I can only think of one positive thing about her — her Senate colleagues, and particularly some Republicans, had good things t say about after her work ethic, personality, and effort in first 6 months or year in the Senate (I can’t remember the details). Other than that I have no real impression of her, favorable or not.

  3. rgbact says:

    I don’t get it. Trump’s support comes from uneducated whites. They don’t give a damn about Bob Gates or anyones endorsement. They want a reality star, period. Bottom line, if Hillary can’t get her favorability above 42%ish……a bunch of liberal.whining about “cowardly” Republicans won’t matter.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Umm, not entirely. There’s plenty of college-educated Republicans who are supporting Trump who would care.

      • rgbact says:

        If Hillary’s at 40-42%, that means independents don’t like her much, She’s gotten many GOP endorsements and of the 5 papers so far that endorsed Romney, 3 are now for her and none for Trump. Again, the college educated set hates Trump, I’m not sure what more she can expect. She needs to focus on turning out her own base rather than worrying about Bob Gates or whoever. She needs to connect with voters….not have others vouch for her.,

  4. R. Jenrette says:

    We may be about to have the answer to the ultimate question about America. Can a government of the people, by and for the people (what made the U.S. exceptional in its time), actually work and survive in the long run?
    Can what worked 200 years ago or so with a small, mostly rural and mostly ethnically similar population, work when the population has exploded into a huge mostly urban population which is much more ethnically diverse?

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