Peter Beinart of The Atlantic is out with a new piece about the “Trump Effect” on other 2016 candidates, using Jeb Bush and John Kasich’s appearances on Sunday talk shows as examples.
On CBS’ Face the Nation, Jeb Bush refused to answer direct questions about whether Trump’s plan to register Muslims is “fascist,” once again punting on the opportunity to stand up to Trump’s prejudiced ideas (like that time he failed to defend his wife when Trump called people from her country of origin “rapists” and “criminals”).
On ABC’s This Week, John Kasich proceeded to get annoyed when Martha Raddatz gave him a chance to explain his campaign ad comparing Trump to Nazi Germany.
From The Atlantic:
Kasich’s answer was astonishing. Asked if he was comparing Trump to Hitler, he began by saying no. Then he distanced himself from his own ad. “This is Colonel Tom Moe,” Kasich explained. “He was a POW for five years in North Vietnam, was beaten and tortured, and came within an inch of losing his own life. And these are his words. He feels very strongly about a man who divides us.”
Perplexed, Raddatz interjected, “But it is your ad.” To which Kasich replied, “But it’s his words.” Evidently candidates are only responsible for the words in their advertisements that they utter themselves.
Kasich, in particular, is an example of one step forward, two steps back. When we first saw his ad featuring Colonel Tom Moe, comparing the consequences of Trump’s policy proposals to the famous admonition of German Pastor Martin Niemoller, we were impressed. Finally, someone from the Republican side of the aisle was telling it like it is and refusing to mince words.
But according to Kasich that message wasn’t really coming from him. He just created the ad. Once again, we have a leadership crisis (as in, stepping up and showing leadership) averted from a member of the GOP’s 2016 field.
It’s not hard to understand what’s going on here. Bush, Kasich, and the other GOP candidates won’t clearly repudiate Trump because they’re afraid of angering his voters. They’re also afraid of angering him. After all, if Republican candidates say they won’t endorse Trump if he wins the GOP nomination, that makes it easier for Trump to return the favor—and run as a third-party candidate next fall….
There’s an irony here. When it comes to Vladimir Putin, ISIS, and Iran, the GOP candidates love denouncing “appeasement.” Yet when it comes to Trump, appeasement is their core strategy. They’re desperate to stop him. But they won’t call him a demagogue or a bigot or worse than Hillary Clinton, because that entails political risk. So they dissemble and evade and thus remind voters why they hate professional politicians. Which makes Trump stronger still.
Kasich and Bush’s performances could not have won over any voters. You either stand up to a bully, or you stand back and get run over. Clearly, they are still falling prey to the Trump Effect.