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Widening division among Republicans could cripple effective governance

The damage Donald Trump has wrought with his lewd, indefensible comments caught on video goes far beyond his own presidential campaign. He is in the process of laying waste to the Republican Party and, with that, endangering the country’s ability to govern itself effectively.

The nuclear explosion, of course, was the release of the 2005 video in which he describes the benefits of stardom, including the possibility – if not the fact – of serial molestation.

We won’t repeat the tawdry specifics of what Trump said, unaware that a hot microphone was recording his confession. Suffice to say the just-married man bragged about trying to have sex with a married woman and that his star power gave him license to kiss and grope women.

At Sunday night’s second presidential debate, Trump claimed they were just words – locker room talk (which athletes say they don’t hear in locker rooms). But they weren’t just words. They described actions, and women have come forward to say the actions occurred. Jill Harth, a makeup artist, is one. Trump’s former wife, Ivana, is another.

The damage is driving more Republicans to reject the candidate who captured their party. These are only a few of the party members who have turned on Trump since the Washington Post broke the story on Friday:

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the party’s 2008 presidential nominee; former New York Gov. George E. Pataki; former Secretary of Education William Bennett; former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; former Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina; Sen. Michael Crapo of South Dakota; New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte; and Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, chairman of the Republican Conference.

In all, the New York Times lists 51 current and former Republican officials who have abandoned Trump just since Friday. And that doesn’t include people who have previously walked away from their party’s nominee: Jeb Bush; Sen Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft; former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr.; former Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte; and dozens of others, some of whom have announced they will vote for Hillary Clinton. Former President George H.W. Bush is said to be among them.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, said Monday he would not defend or campaign with Trump. That reportedly prompted Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., to call Republican leaders “cowards.” And Trump tweeted: “Paul Ryan should spend more time on balancing the budget, jobs and illegal immigration and not waste his time on fighting Republican nominee.”

It’s an existential calamity for the Republican Party – an abandonment without equal, less than a month before Election Day. And all of this despite Clinton’s own notable flaws, which a genuine Republican – honorable and conservative – might easily have exploited.

The damage to the party could reverberate for decades. Young voters who don’t cotton to Trump’s brand of nativism, misogyny, bullying, despotism and intolerance may be driven away by a party that has been unable to stand up to Trump.

But this goes beyond party politics. American democracy works best when two honorable, competing parties – both actually interested in governing – are able to hold the other accountable.
Without that check, human nature all but guarantees that the party in power will abuse its authority. Trump is dragging down his adopted party – his captive party – to the point that its credibility and its reputation for seriousness has been damaged.

Trump’s main defense – apart from a bland apology and a preposterous lie that “Nobody has more respect for women than I do” ­– is to say Bill Clinton was worse. Everyone knows about the former president’s wretched behavior, but comparisons to Trump are neither measurable nor useful. What do they have to do with Hillary Clinton? She was a victim of her husband’s faithlessness, not a perpetrator.

Trump has vowed revenge on the Republicans abandoning him, but they are more afraid of what could come next. And the destruction continues.

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