Janesville, Wisconsin—Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are running a campaign for the Republican presidential nomination that is at once ugly and devoid of meaningful options for responsible voters.
As they take each other apart in a Wisconsin primary clash that could decide whether Trump can be prevented from securing the nomination, Trump and Cruz are plumbing the depths of American politics. The blowhard billionaire and the shut-the-government-down senator are literally reinforcing the revulsion at their respective candidacies.
While it is true that both contenders play fast and loose with the facts, there is no reason to doubt the basic premises of what the candidates are saying about one another. Trump calls Cruz a liar, and portrays the senator from Texas as a sleazy political careerist. Cruz dismisses Trump as an “out of his depth” pretender who is waging a “disgusting” campaign. They’re both right.
In Wisconsin, they are both ranting and raving about insulted wives, alleged infidelities, and every other soap-opera scenario that can be imagined. It’s gotten so bad that the National Enquirer has shoved aside Hollywood scandal stories for politics. And Ohio Governor John Kasich, the last adult standing on the Republican debate stage (if they have any more debates), describes the last round of Trump-Cruz bombast as “sort of a knee-jerk.”
That’s putting it mildly.
The Wisconsin immigrant rights group Voces De La Frontera—which has encouraged multi-racial, multi-ethnic protests against the extremism of Trump and Cruz—is blunter.
“Trump and Cruz are calling for the deportation of all 11 million undocumented people, and Cruz recently promoted Sheriff Arpaio-style policies of mass racial profiling and police harassment of Muslim communities,” says Voces de la Frontera executive director Christine Neumann-Ortiz. “We have a moral obligation to defeat this dangerous hate before it grows and becomes a strong political and social movement. This Frankenstein is a creation of right wing mainstream politics that promotes rhetoric and policies that scapegoat immigrants, minorities, poor people and union members to the benefit Wall Street, the banks, and corporate America.”
If the Republican race continues on the current path, it is hard to imagine how a party that nominates either Trump or Cruz could survive as anything akin to the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, or even Reagan. The notion that one of them is preferable—as Cruz backers such as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (a failed GOP contender who just endorsed the Texan) suggest—is comic. And the Republicans elites who peddle such fantasies deserve their political fate.
But America does not deserve the damage that is being done to its image by Trump and Cruz.
The crazy campaign that these candidates are running—with Trump celebrating waterboarding and talking up the idea of letting more countries develop nuclear arsenals, and with Cruz talking about targeting Muslim neighborhoods in ways that violate all the basic premises of the Bill of Rights and the American experiment—has, according to Secretary of State John Kerry, surprised and bewildered world leaders.
Though he did not mention Trump and Cruz by name, it was clear whom Kerry was talking about on CBS News’s Face the Nation when he said that the campaign “upsets people’s sense of equilibrium about our steadiness, about our reliability, and to some degree I must say to you, [based on] some of the questions the way they’re posed to me, it’s clear to me that what’s happening is an embarrassment to our country.”
“Everywhere I go, every leader I meet, they ask about what is happening in America,” said Kerry. “They cannot believe it. I think it is fair to say that they’re shocked. They don’t know where it’s taking the United States of America.”
Neither do Americans.
But Republican leaders such as House speaker Paul Ryan—whose hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, was visited by Cruz last week and will be visited by Trump Tuesday—really should be reconsidering their dysfunctional approach to the race that is ripping apart their party and their country. Ryan’s friends and neighbors have been protesting Trump this week. But the speaker continues to combine his absurdly mild criticisms of the extreme language of Trump and Cruz with pledges to back whomever is nominated. As such, Ryan is enabling a Republican race that the secretary of state indicates has become “an embarrassment to our country.”
Trump and Cruz have no shame.
But Ryan and other on-the-sidelines Republican “leaders” should be ashamed of what their party is doing to itself and to America’s image on the global stage.