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The VICE Guide to the 2016 Election

Republicans Are Starting to Turn on Trump

After a week when his arrogance and xenophobia were on display, more and more Republicans are openly attacking Donald Trump.

by Harry Cheadle
Jun 17 2016, 11:35am

Donald Trump telling everyone how great he is in Georgia. (Photo by Branden Camp/Getty Images)

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On Wednesday, Donald Trump stood in his natural habitat, on a podium in front of some flags, and said, in his baritone kazoo of a voice, "We have to have our Republicans either stick together or let me just do it by myself. I'll do very well. I'm going to do very well. OK? I'm going to do very well. A lot of people thought I should do that anyway, but I'll just do it very nicely by myself."

These are not the words of a man doing so well by himself.

This past week was one of the worst of the Republican presidential nominee's brief political career. The Orlando nightclub shooting was the sort of national tragedy that demands a response from public figures. Democrats called for gun control measures that they've long supported, Republicans demanded that Barack Obama say the words "radical Islam," the NRA denounced "political correctness."

As for Trump, first he congratulated himself for predicting that there would be another mass murder on American soil, then implied that Obama was somehow maybe letting attacks like this happen. Then he gave a speech doubling down on his toxic "no Muslim immigration" policy. That was all on Monday, and the next few days produced a wave of stories about what an asshole Trump was.

He antagonized an already hostile media by banning the Washington Post from covering his events because he didn't like a headline about his conspiratorial ramblings about Barack Obama—a petty move that didn't seem to accomplish anything. Then, Obama himself came out with some extremely forceful remarks condemning Trump's Islamophobia, and asking, "Do Republican officials actually agree with this?"

Turns out no, many of them didn't: House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has been playing a disapproving Marge to Trump's wild-eyed Homer Simpson act, said, "I do not think a Muslim ban is in our country's interest"; other Republicans said Trump's response was "disappointing" or just refused to answer questions about him. Senator Lindsey Graham said, "I don't think he has the judgment or the temperament, the experience to deal with what we are facing."

Presidential campaigns are brutal, bitter affairs. But this sort of venom from inside one's own party seems unprecedented. What are you supposed to do if you're running for president and your presumed allies in Congress—the people you'll need on your side to actually pass legislation, should you win—are calling the things you say "the definition of racism"? Or when former high-ranking Bush administration official Richard Armitage says, "He doesn't appear to be a Republican—he doesn't appear to want to learn about issues. So I'm going to vote for Mrs. Clinton."

If you're Trump, you go onstage and tell GOP leaders, "Don't talk, please, be quiet." Then you say that the US should be surveilling mosques.

A recent Ryan Lizza piece in the New Yorker shows just how disconnected Trump is from the Republican elite, who are themselves fairly disconnected from many Republican voters. Those elites, like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, were, broadly, pro–free trade and open to some sort of immigration reform, but Trump's protectionist, starkly anti-immigrant rhetoric was what voters actually wanted to hear. Consultants and party insiders have been worried about the GOP's standing with millennials and Latinos, but the base, it turns out, are more concerned with closed factories and a social order where white men aren't towering over everyone.

But the real problem is not policy disagreements—it's Trump's shitty personality. Thin-skinned, narcissistic, vindictive, habitual liars who say whatever thought comes into their heads do not normally make for great presidential fodder, and Trump's prejudiced persona is actively hurting candidates who have to run beneath him on the GOP ballot. Case in point: Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, facing a tough reelection fight, found it prudent to not just refuse to endorse Trump but call him "too bigoted and racist" to be president on Thursday.

Trump could laugh off the scorn of people like Kirk and Armitage if he were riding a wave of populism to the White House, but there's mounting evidence that people outside of DC aren't warming to his schtick either. Recent polls found him dropping both nationally and in important states, and a majority of respondents disapproved of his response to Orlando.

It was difficult for Republicans to decide whether to support Trump when he was a popular demagogue; his increasing unpopularity makes the choice a lot easier. Some GOP officials in areas with a lot of Trump supporters will safely praise every wall he wants to build, but the rest of them may see value in getting off the Trump train before it careens burning off a cliff come November. It's pretty telling that when top conservatives have big meetings to discuss the future, the topic is Ted Cruz and the 2020 race.

Follow Harry Cheadle on Twitter.

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