The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty

As Republicans flee Trump, the question becomes, ‘Why now?’

What makes Donald Trump’s latest scandal different from all the others is the reaction from his party. From Friday night to Saturday night, we saw more than a few Republican officials – senators, governors, U.S. House members, et al – abandon the controversial GOP presidential nominee in droves.

There are quite a few lists available of those participating in the Republican stampede, but I’m partial to this one, put together by the University of Chicago’s (and Daily Kos’) Daniel Nichanian, who broke down the list with helpful categories.

To be sure, even now, a clear majority of Republican officials are still aboard the Trump Train, and no one from the House or Senate leadership has formally abandoned the candidate. That said, the dozens of GOP officials who have given up on Trump since Friday afternoon is both striking and without precedent in American campaign history.

There’s a temptation among many to see these departures as a noble act. As the argument goes, many Republicans, rather than defend Trump’s indefensible comments (and professed actions), are putting principle above party and giving up on a candidate unfit for office. By this reasoning, these GOP officials deserve credit for responding to the latest revelations by finally doing the right thing.

But the truth is more complicated. Politico had a piece on this yesterday that summarized the problem nicely.
The problem for Donald Trump’s supporters as they rush for the exit over that 2005 tape of him bragging about sexual harassment and assault: answering why this was what pushed them over the edge on him, or if it even did.

Anyone who bails or rushes to condemn him now implicitly accepted everything that’s come before – his saying Mexicans are rapists, that Megyn Kelly must have been menstruating when she aggressively questioned him at an early primary debate, that Muslims should be banned, that he didn’t know enough about David Duke to condemn the former Ku Klux Klan wizard, that women should be punished for having abortions, all while welcoming the support of Nazis and white nationalists, mocking a reporter for his disabled arm, insisting a judge with Latino heritage couldn’t rule fairly against him, smearing Khizr and Ghazala Khan, suggesting Hillary Clinton be shot, keeping up his birtherism softshoe and encouraging Russian hackers to go after his opponent’s files.
For nearly the entirety of the Republican Party, each of these previous incidents deserved to be overlooked. Less than a week ago, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) even went so far as to say Trump is “absolutely” a role model for children, despite his record (she later said she “misspoke”).

Month after month, scandal after scandal, offense after offense, the Republican Party just went along – and of this afternoon, most of the GOP still is. The question for the Republican officials who’ve jumped ship isn’t, “Why did you give up on Trump?” but rather, “Can you explain what in hell took so long?”

Not to put too fine a point on this, but they knew – about Trump’s misogyny, about the racism and bigotry, about his brazen and shameless lying, about his shots at veterans and their families, about the wild-eyed conspiracy theories, about his affection for dictators, about all of the things he brings to the table as a candidate. The vast majority of the GOP knew exactly who this guy was – Trump made no effort to hide his most ridiculous qualities – and they decided not to care.

Disgust was an appropriate response to the latest revelations, but surprise was not. As the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne Jr. put it yesterday, “What is truly shocking is that Donald Trump’s Republican enablers are shocked.”

So, sure, dozens of Republicans have decided “grab ‘em by the p—y” is a bridge too far, which is arguably a step up from those who still believe Trump has earned the privilege of leading the free world. But let’s not pretend there’s something courageous or noble about GOP politicians who looked the other way for 16 months, only to scurry away when their candidate appeared likely to lose.

I’m reminded of congressional testimony from Princeton scholar Sean Wilentz, who told House Republicans during their impeachment crusade in 1998, “History will hunt you down for your cravenness.”

Those same eight words seem equally applicable now.

Donald Trump and Republican Party

As Republicans flee Trump, the question becomes, 'Why now?'