For all their inveighing about “traditional values under attack” and the “cultural decline” in America, Republicans seem to be contributing to the problem in this election season. At least a plurality of GOP primary voters seems to revel in, or at least ignore, a spasm of deplorable behavior.
How else, other than moral obtuseness, can one explain the support that Donald Trump – thrice married, admitted adulterer, casino operator, open bigot and vulgarian – enjoys from Republicans, and evangelicals in particular? In supporting Trump, they lose credibility on a range of issues including “traditional marriage” and abortion (he celebrates Planned Parenthood’s work).
If the values in “values voters” have any substance, they should reject Trump, not simply for his private life but also for his continued public conduct. In the debate, Jeb Bush said, “It’s weak to disparage women. It’s weak to denigrate the disabled. And, it’s really weak to call John McCain a loser.” Bush could also have said it is not the behavior of someone who takes faith seriously.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is a harder case. He has been happily married and seems (phony ad, aside) to be a devoted family man. But conservatives make an error, I would suggest, in cutting him so much slack because they like his hard-line stance on immigration or some other issue.
Let’s get real: Rubio is right in saying Cruz either lied in 2013 about wanting to legalize “people in the shadows” or Cruz is misrepresenting his record now. Right to Life called Cruz’s attack on Rubio’s antiabortion record “misleading and inaccurate.” Cruz continues to misrepresent his campaign's conduct on the night of the Iowa caucuses. He misled fellow Republicans in claiming he had an end game for the government shutdown.
To refuse to consider a pattern of disturbing conduct that would stick out in any normal (non-Trump) election year is an act of denial. And to ignore for whatever reason his ability to engender such hostility, so widely, in so many settings, is deeply unwise.
Too often in politics, “character” concerns are raised simply as a partisan weapon to deploy against ideological opponents.
Understanding that politicians are not choir boys, conservatives should not stoop to playing a game of moral relativism. If they are all bad, then anything goes. Except all politicians are not equal. After all, a central argument against Hillary Clinton is that she is untrustworthy and dishonest. Why should voters take this legitimate reservation seriously if Trump gets exoneration and Cruz gets insufficient scrutiny?
There are men and women of better character and of worse. To the extent conservatives want to defend traditional values – any values – they risk looking like hypocrites and earning the scorn of their fellow conservatives (and, more broadly, citizens) by choosing someone of obviously deficient character. It is as important to ask who is the most honest (even virtuous!) as it is to ask who is the most ideologically satisfying candidate.
Otherwise you wind up with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Come to think of it, maybe we really are slouching towards Gomorrah.