• Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus never went on bended knee to Trump with his worthless pledge but instead routinely denounced his utterances.
• Republican candidates with no real chance to win chose not to run or quickly dropped out and denounced Trump, leaving only three or four candidates in the field.
• Mike Murphy at the Jeb Bush super PAC spent more money exposing Trump than attacking other Republicans.
• During the debate the Trump opponents had uniformly denounced his bigoted rhetoric, ridiculed his lame ideas and leaped on his lies.
• The other Republicans refused to say they'd support him as the nominee.
• Cable TV did not give Trump billions of dollars in free airtime and critically interviewed him and investigated his scandals from the get-go.
• Fox News behaved like a real news operation.
• Radio talk show hosts posing as conservatives had revealed Trump as a charlatan, a hater and a fraud.
• The RNC quickly reduced the debates to four or five competitors so as to provide them and the moderators with more time to grill Trump.
• Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, had not fawned over Trump for months.
• Social conservative leaders in unison had denounced Trump as racist, ignorant, cruel, dishonest, greedy and ungenerous instead of being content after he checked the antiabortion box and toted around a Bible.
• The RNC made clear that the rules at the convention would require the release of five years of tax reforms.
• Republican leaders refused to endorse Trump after he secured the requisite number of delegates, donors refused to fund him and elected GOP officials declined to speak for him at the convention.
• An attractive team (Sasse-Haley, Ryan-Martinez) had chosen to contest
Trump and run as an independent ticket.
If even a few of these things had occurred, we might not now have an openly racist GOP nominee and a dismal election choice. And even if we had exactly the same result -- a Trump vs. Hillary Clinton election -- all of the players identified above would have had the satisfaction that goes with doing the honorable thing. They could have looked their children in the eye and said, "When bad people come along, your obligation is to do your part to stop them." And they would be in a position after Trump passes from the political scene to pick up the pieces and chart a new course for the conservative movement and the GOP.
Instead of principled leadership, we have had mass followership, a display of widespread moral idiocy. Make a buck. Preserve your "political viability."
"Unify" the party. It is ironic that one of the icons of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke, had this phenomenon pegged almost 300 years ago when he said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." In this case it was worse; good men behaved badly, facilitating evil.
From our vantage point, a post-Trump conservative party will need to repudiate the institutional conduct of the RNC, Trump and his backers. In simplest terms it will need to restore virtue and character as the fundamental prerequisites of public leadership. It will be more difficult because having nominated Trump, the GOP and the country will have reset our tolerance for moral and intellectual sloth. (Ramesh Ponnuru writes: "If we elevate a man we know to be cruel, impulsive, insecure, vain and dishonest to the most powerful position in our country, that choice helps to define our own character and shape our expectations for one another.")
Several years ago Peter Wehner wrote: The task of modern American conservatism is to sketch out a vision of the kind of citizens we hope to produce: citizens who are self-sufficient, sovereign, discerning, and responsible. We need to promote policies that encourage success, enterprise, and human excellence. This is another way of saying that what conservatives should be championing is self-government. If done in the right way - in a manner that is uplifting rather than preachy, affirming rather than scolding - it can help rally an anxious country to an admirable cause."
Are there such leaders out there who will promote and not undermine those qualities, who, while flawed like all of us, will aspire to be better? Perhaps we will need to look beyond the political realm to the military, philanthropy, education and the sciences to find leaders with a reliable moral compass. We cannot be great if our leaders intentionally reject the real values that are critical to a functioning democracy -- decency, tolerance, kindness, restraint, empathy and rationality.