There's a familiar saying: "What goes around, comes around." Donald Trump, the Republican Party's nominee for president, is experiencing that truism as numerous Republicans won't endorse him against Hillary Clinton.
Trump won the Republican nomination by amassing enough delegates, but he violated at least one wise political maxim: You can't get hurt for what you don't say. Approaching the nomination, Trump pilloried his Republican opponents, humiliating and ultimately defeating them. He called Jeb Bush, an accomplished conservative former governor of Florida, "low energy" and rudely criticized Bush's father and older brother, both former presidents.
He called Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a rising Republican star, "Little Marco," among other things. "Lyin' Ted" was a moniker Trump reserved for conservative Sen. Ted Cruz, an ambitious Texan who came in second in the delegate count. Mr. Trump also publicly criticized Cruz's wife and father. When popular Hispanic New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez failed to endorse Trump, he criticized her in her own state. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham was roundly insulted by Mr. Trump, who called Graham's friend, Arizona Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war, a "loser" because he was captured by the North Vietnamese and eschewed his personal freedom.
Fearing political defeat at home with Trump as their presidential nominee, 16 Republican senators seeking re-election in 2016 avoided the Republican National Convention, refusing to climb aboard the Trump bandwagon because of his offensive language. Now he wants their help.
Trump won the nomination, but has paid a high price.
Trump says he's new to politics, but as a savvy 70-year-old businessman, he must realize that criticizing fellow Republican candidates in a deeply personal manner won't earn their support at election time. Cruz is self-serving and calculating and will run again for president, so it's no surprise that he used the convention stage in Cleveland last month to lay the groundwork for his own political gain, rather than endorse Trump. Some will mistakenly replicate the Trump style.
Mistakes have plagued the Trump nomination. Plagiarism is always fruitless: Instead of parroting liberal First Lady Michelle Obama's words, Melania Trump could have chosen to quote Laura Bush, Nancy Reagan or some other conservative, avoiding plagiarism by giving them credit. The words' impact wouldn't have lessened, but the political fallout would have. The good things Mrs. Trump said about her husband were diminished by using someone else's words.
Trump's choice of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate was diminished by reports that Trump operatives approached Ohio Gov. John Kasich to be VP, but he declined, even choosing not to address the convention in his own state. Kasich, deeply religious and moral, couldn't embrace the divisions Trump has fostered.
One Spokane woman — an elected official, even — told me that she wouldn't let her children watch the Republican debates, fearing that Trump would utter something inappropriate or crude. That indictment of Trump's rough political style explains Republicans' reluctance to endorse him.
Trump supporters argue that refusing to support him hands the election to Hillary Clinton, who many believe to be the most dishonest presidential candidate ever. Trump will need every vote available to defeat the truly liberal Clinton machine. With millions on hand, she'll not miss a political trick, because with the Clintons, obsessed with political power, the ends always justify the means.
But if Trump loses in November, his supporters will have only themselves to blame for abandoning their civility standards. Demanding that Republicans with high standards lower them just because the alternative is so bad is a fool's errand. It's OK to be a tough campaigner, but it's not OK to diminish opponents personally and crudely like Trump has.
Most first-time candidates usually say something stupid enough to sour the public on their candidacy. The savvy campaigner, however, takes high political ground, because after a bruising election campaign, a loser shouldn't want the public to recall the low ground the losing campaign took, especially if that loser wants future respect. Trump may not care, adopting the "election is rigged" excuse instead.
Trump's supporters ask voters to abandon their principles and ignore the past because "Hillary would be so bad." They're right about Hillary, but demanding that voters abandon civility and integrity to support one flawed candidate because the other is so distasteful is asking too much. In doing so, they expect voters to travel a low political road by supporting a candidate indiscriminately; that's something the majority won't do.
In politics and in life, one reaps what one sows. November 8 will deliver a flawed 45th president. ♦