Asked recently whether he considered former KKK leader David Duke deplorable, vice presidential nominee Mike Pencesaid he was "not in the name-calling business." Earlier this year, Donald Trump was posed a similar question and claimed, incredibly and repeatedly, "I don't know anything about David Duke." In a particularly revealing campaign moment, Trump was asked to repudiate the anti-Semitic death threats made by some of his followers against a reporter. "I don't have a message to the fans," Trump said.
It's all good, the Dude abides, just chill and all that.
For some of us, this raises the hardest moral and emotional issue of the current campaign. The Republican nominee came to prominence feeding fears of Mexicans, migrants and Muslims. He refuses to engage in the normal moral and political hygiene of repudiating extremism. I don't believe that anything close to half of Trump supporters are motivated by racism. But they are willing to tolerate a level of prejudice that should be morally unacceptable in a presidential candidate.
See, Trump and his supporters are just way more tolerant than Hillary. Bring it on home, Michael.
No presidential candidate is responsible for the views of all their supporters. But at least since the 1960s, conservative leaders have felt a responsibility to actively oppose and discredit those elements of the right that identify Americanism with ethnic purity and spin conspiracy theories of Semitic control. Opposing these long-standing tendencies of right-wing nationalism is part of what conservative intellectual and political leadership has meant for decades. The current vacuum of such leadership at the top of the Republican ticket is taken as a cultural signal by both the perpetrators and objects of prejudice.
Or so I would argue. Other Republicans I know and like find my viewpoint morally problematic, because it helps enable the election of Hillary Clinton and the nomination of liberals to the Supreme Court, which would result in irreparable harm to the country. It is a dispute causing a crisis of self-definition among conservatives, straining and rupturing friendships across the movement. That is another legacy of Donald Trump, who will be known for the wounds he leaves behind.