Top Republicans issue appeals to adjust party's woeful course

Friday, March 04, 2016

So wasn’t it fun, for a few hours at least, to be a Pioneer Valley voter? On the Democratic side, we flocked to the polls Super Tuesday in favor of self-described socialist Bernie Sanders. As for Republican voters, we helped deliver a resounding victory to … um, Donald Trump.

There you have it: Even as Democrats in western Massachusetts were bucking national trends to support our lefty neighbor from Vermont, a flock of moderates who tried to boost Ohio Gov. John Kasich on the GOP ticket couldn’t reverse the powerful tide of sentiment for the bombastic, egomaniacal, racist, ill-informed and (fill in your own favorite adjective here) Trump.

The Donald’s Super Tuesday victories don’t guarantee him the nomination, and party insiders and moderates are doing their best to deny him the 1,237 delegates he needs to lock it up before July’s convention. In an extraordinary move Thursday, the Republicans’ 2012 and 2008 standard-bearers united in a public show of opposition to Trump.

Calling Trump “a phony” who is “playing the American public for suckers,” former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney called on reasonable people to shun the billionaire and reality TV star. The GOP’s 2012 nominee declared: “If we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished.” 

The 2008 Republican nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, followed Romney’s condemnation with one of his own, saying he shares the “many concerns about Mr. Trump’s uninformed and indeed dangerous statements on national security issues that have been raised by 65 Republican defense and foreign policy leaders.” 

Commentators overseas joined the chorus, warning of the risks to America’s reputation and international stability should Trump ascend to the presidency. “The Trump candidacy has opened the door to madness, for the unthinkable to happen, a bad joke to become reality,” the German business daily Handelsblatt wrote in a commentary. “What looked grotesque must now be discussed seriously.” 

That discussion needs to happen, of course, in the badly fractured Republican Party. And party leaders need to be honest with themselves about laying the groundwork for Trump’s success with an approach to public discourse that has in recent years been rooted in intolerance and knee-jerk opposition to the public-spirited reforms of President Barack Obama.

But the discussion should also focus Democrats on the need to provide voters with a strong alternative.
It has grown increasingly clear that neither Secretary of State Hillary Clinton nor Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has succeeded in attracting the voters who flocked to Obama in earlier years. Democratic turnout has dropped dramatically this year, by as much as 50 percent in some regions.

Trump, on the other hand, has tapped a powerful vein of anti-establishment anger to bring out voters old and new. Many of his supporters come from the poor and working-class communities that should see their political allies on the Democratic ticket.

In Springfield — where unemployment runs nearly twice the state’s 4.6 percent rate — Republican voters gave Trump an overwhelming edge over his rivals. That pattern played itself out in other economically challenged communities across the country, according to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal. Only in more prosperous communities did Republicans Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz best their flamboyant rival.

The message is clear for Republicans and Democrats alike: People who blame the political establishment for their woes are looking for someone who will deliver more than the same-old.

The Gazette endorsed Kasich in the Republican race, and we continue to think that he would best represent the interests of struggling Americans among that party’s contenders. And we see Sanders as the best Democratic prospect, a candidate whose crusade to banish big money from politics should appeal to disenfranchised Americans.

After Super Tuesday, Kasich’s candidacy remains a long shot. And after Clinton swept the South, the odds of Sanders reversing her momentum have grown longer. But as these candidates look forward to the important votes in states including Michigan, Florida, Ohio and Missouri in coming weeks, they must remember to reach out to the disaffected Americans who are looking for a true populist to carry their voices to Washington.
That populist is not Donald Trump. The only voice he’s interested in is his own.