In the aftermath of the final presidential debate, Republican leaders and elected officials will no longer be able to shirk their responsibility to curb Donald Trump — who has become a clear and present danger not only to their party but to this country. He isn’t dangerous because he soiled the GOP brand once more, because he mocks and taunts other Republicans, or because he is so likely to lose and take some of them down with him.
No, Trump is dangerous because he refused to agree that he would accept the election’s outcome if he loses, inviting a violent reaction by his supporters — and because he sided with the Russian Federation against U.S. intelligence and military leaders over their alleged interference in this election. Even his running mate Mike Pence has found these bizarre positions insupportable.
What Trump’s startling debate responses showed was not merely his vacuum of proper temperament and judgment — personality defects that are all too well known by now — but his casual lack of respect for basic American institutions and traditions. His casual dismissal of profound concerns over Russian incursions against US citizens, despite the briefings he has received from American intelligence officials, was stunning. He accepted the denials by Russian officials and implied that his own country’s services are lying.
No doubt many Republicans have been troubled by Trump’s shadowy and compromised relationship with the regime of Vladimir Putin. His strange pronouncements about Ukraine, Syria, and other foreign issues, seeming to justify or whitewash aggressive Russian policies, are far outside the American mainstream in either party.
But he went further still when he renewed his refusal to accept the election’s results. For all his obsequious blather about Putin, nothing could be more pleasing to the Russian boss than this grotesque attempt to discredit American democracy. Putin and the oligarchs who surround him often argue that the United States is “hypocritical” in advocating democracy, transparency, and human rights, because our own practices are imperfect. When a major party presidential candidate disparaged our system as “corrupt” and “rigged” before an audience of millions, he delivered an extraordinary propaganda victory to the Kremlin.