The New York Times | OPED COLUMNIST
JULY 8, 2015
By Frank Bruni
I keep reading that Donald Trump is wrecking the Republican Party. I keep
hearing that he’s a threat to the fortunes of every other Republican
presidential candidate, because he sullies the brand and puts them in an
What bunk. The truth is that he’s an opportunity for them as golden as the
namesake nameplates on his phallic towers, if only they would seize it.
The brand was plenty sullied before he lent his huff and his hair to the
And by giving his Republican rivals a perfect foil, he also gives them a
perfect chance to rehabilitate and redeem the party.
As it stands now, he’s using them.
If they had any guts, they could use him.
They could piggyback on the outsize attention that he receives, answering
his unhinged tweets and idiotic utterances with something sane and smart,
knowing that it, too, would get prominent notice.
They could define themselves in the starkest possible contrast to him,calling him out as the bully and bigot that he is. Then he wouldn’t own the
story, because the narrative would be about cooler heads and kinder hearts in
the party staring down one of its most needlessly divisive ambassadors and
saying: Enough. No more. We’re serious people at the limit of our patience for
There was a hint of this last weekend, when Jeb Bush, whose wife is
MexicanAmerican, lashed out at Trump’s broadbrush comments about
Mexican immigrants crossing into America with an agenda of drugs and rape.
Bush labeled those remarks “extraordinarily ugly” and “way out of the
mainstream” and said that there’s “no tolerance” for them.
But he didn’t exactly volunteer that assessment. It came in response to a
reporter’s question, and it came more than two weeks after Trump’s offense.
Neither he nor Marco Rubio exhibited any hurry in distancing themselves
from Trump, though both of them trumpet their personal biographies as proof
that they’re sensitive to Latino immigrants.
On Fox Business on Tuesday, Rubio gave a pathetic master class in
cowardly evasion, stammering his way though an interview in which he was
asked repeatedly for an opinion about Trump. You would have thought that he
was being pressed for malicious gossip about the Easter bunny.
He never did manage to upbraid Trump, though he was careful to
mention the “legitimate issue” of border security that Trump had raised.
As in 2012, Republicans can’t summon the courage to take on the dark
heroes of the party’s lunatic fringe. As in 2012, this could cost them dearly.
The Charleston, S.C., church massacre and subsequent debate over the
Confederate flag afforded them an ideal moment to talk with passion and
poetry about racial healing.
But the leading contenders reacted in fashions either sluggish, terse,
muffled or all three. They showed more interest in fleeing the subject than in
grabbing profitable hold of it.
Trump’s rant about immigrants, which he has since amplified, was
another squandered moment.
Chris Christie could have made good on his boasts about always telling it
like it is and being unconstrained by politesse.
Instead he made clear that he
liked Trump and considered him a friend. That soft crunching sound you
heard was the supposedly hardcharging New Jersey governor walking on
Rand Paul claims the desire and ability to expand the party’s reach to
more minorities. So where’s his takedown of Trump?
Bush has said that a politician must be willing to lose the party’s
nomination in order to win the general election, but that philosophy can’t end
with his allegiance to the Common Core. It has to include an unblinking
acknowledgment of his party’s craziness whenever and wherever it flares.
Trump’s hold on voters stems largely from his lack of any filter and from
his directness, traits that they don’t see in establishment candidates.
fellow Republicans’ filtered, indirect approach to him just gives him more
And while he should be irrelevant, he’s becoming ever more relevant,
because he’s exposing their timidity and caution.
They’re wrong to try to ignore him, because the media won’t do that and
because he’s probably going to qualify for the debates.
Looking ahead to the first of them, the conservative pundit George Will
bought into the notion of Trump as an ineradicable pest who “says something
hideously inflammatory, which is all he knows how to say, and then what do the other nine people onstage do?”
Oh, please. That’s hardly an existential crisis. It’s a prompt for an overdue
smidgen of valor.
Without any hesitation, they tell him that he’s a disgrace. Without any
hedging, they tell him that he’s absurd.
It’s the truth. And for the Republican Party, it might just be
Thomas L. Friedman is off today.
I invite you to visit my blog, follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/frankbruni and
join me on Facebook.
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A version of this oped appears in print on July 8, 2015, on page A21 of the New York edition with
the headline: The Wasted Gift of The Donald.