For all the damage that Donald Trump’s candidacy is doing to the Republican Party’s brand, not to mention the fracturing of the conservative coalition that has resulted from the celebrity candidate’s eccentric White House bid, he is performing at least one public service. His remarkable political success as a novice presidential candidate has led those who would give up not merely bedrock conservative principle but even personal integrity for a taste of power to reveal themselves.
If endorsing Trump is a Faustian bargain for his prominent Republican supporters, it is not entirely clear what they get out of the deal. At least the figure of German legend secured every manner of earthly reward in exchange for his soul. For Trump backers, their incalculable sacrifices must be surrendered up front.
Dr. Ben Carson made a career as a man of achievement, studiousness, and unimpeachable character. As an accomplished surgeon, not to mention a man of morality and grace, Carson was a rare thing: a role model for all the right reasons. Today, as a Trump surrogate, Carson is reduced to defending a person who linked his psychological state to that of a “child molester.” He has dismissed Trump’s vacillations on issues like the right to life, shielded from criticism alleged batterer and Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, and even renounced his once unshakable commitment to civil discourse and honesty. “It gets you where it got me,” this broken man confessed, “nowhere.”
Carson is far from the only figure who sacrificed a hard-won legacy for the fleeting beneficence of a reality television star. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s displays of self-abasement are truly beyond description. As I wrote at the time, Christie’s early and pivotal endorsement of Trump was an even more dramatic betrayal of conservatism, because he had a record of remarkable achievement as a two-term conservative governor of a deep blue state. Christie successfully restructured public-sector union privileges, reformed legacy debt burdens, and even de-funded Planned Parenthood. He crafted for himself the image of a “straight talker,” particularly on moral and fiscal imperatives like the nation’s underfunded entitlement liabilities. For such paltry trinkets as a brief extension of his time in the limelight and the opportunity to stick it to the younger upstarts within the GOP who wounded his remarkably fragile ego, Christie threw all that work away.
Many other erstwhile conservatives have joined the procession of self-flagellators shuffling behind the real estate heir, but few have been so humbled by their experience as these two. Moreover, few have so deserved their humiliation before now. Their ignominious ranks have just grown by one. The latest to back Trump deserves all the scorn Chris Christie and Ben Carson earned and more, and he seems to know it. Perhaps that is why the former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani divulged his support for Trump with so many provisos, but he is owed none of the indulgences he is requesting.
In an interview on Thursday, America’s Mayor revealed to New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman that he intends to vote for Donald Trump when New York holds its primary on April 19. If that sounds like an endorsement to you, Giuliani would ask your forbearance. He’s not endorsing Trump, per se, but merely declaring his intention to vote for his friend because, in the former mayor’s words, the reality television star is a better presidential prospect than Ted Cruz and a more realistic one than John Kasich.
Giuliani would not outright endorse Trump because he does not believe Trump to be a figure worthy of endorsement. He specifically contended that Trump’s decision to condone the mockery of Heidi Cruz’s physical appearance was untoward. What’s more, Giuliani apparently does not agree with either Trump or Cruz on the issue of immigration—a matter central to Trump’s appeal. Despite all this, the former mayor compared Trump favorably to Ronald Reagan and called the celebrity candidate, who has perhaps irreparably debased American political discourse, a “gentleman.” Here, Giuliani revealed his own capacity for shame; a facility that seems woefully absent in many other Trump endorsers. The former mayor wants to have it both ways. He would like to be seen as supporting Trump without the associated compromises demanded of those who came before him. Specifically, Giuliani would prefer to avoid the Sisyphean torment of having to defend the celebrity candidate’s serial mendacity, his incivility, his fluid principles, or his incoherence on policy matters in public.
There is a special incongruity in former New York City mayor, who famously led the city through one of the worst attacks on American soil, embracing a September 11 conspiracy theorist. As a vehicle for landing a few glancing blows on Jeb Bush, Trump entertained the notion that George W. Bush could have prevented those attacks but, through negligence or something more malevolent (Trump will not elaborate), failed to do so. No less a figure than Richard Clarke, a former Bush administration national security official who became a fierce critic of the 43rd President, dismissed this notion in testimony before the 9/11 Commission. Trump rehabilitated the views of paranoid cranks formerly consigned to the dimly lit basements where they belong. Giuliani, too, has now lent these conspiracy theorists undue credibility.
Perhaps more bizarre than that development is the fact that New York City’s most successful prosecutor of the city’s Mafioso would climb into bed with a man who for years was on the wrong side of that fight. In the 1980s, when Donald Trump was affixing his name in gaudy gold letters to every high-rise he could anchor into Manhattan bedrock, he was also doing business with the mobbed-up concrete industry. In December 2015, Trump admitted he knew his associates in the construction industry were “supposedly associated with the mob.” Trump cultivated business relationships with the confederates of convicted Mafia boss Nicky Scarfo to advance his business interests in Atlantic City. “Trump seemed aware of this,” PolitiFact reported, “calling [investment banker Kenneth] Shapiro ‘a third-rate, local real estate mafia’ and [labor boss Daniel] Sullivan ‘the guy who killed Jimmy Hoffa.’” Felix Sater, a former executive with Trump enterprise partner Bayrock Group, who had known ties to the Bonanno and Genovese crime families, was convicted in 2007 of fraud (after a 1993 conviction for assault with a broken margarita glass). Trump continued to work with Sater even after his criminal associations were revealed.
For Giuliani, the former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York who famously broke the backs of New York’s “Five Families,” to legitimize Trump is the act of an arsonist.
Many a Republican voter in 2008, including myself, judged Giuliani to be the most competent inheritor of the legacy of George W. Bush. The Giuliani campaign’s Florida first-last-and-only strategy certainly called his political instincts into question, but, for the campaign’s supporters, never was the mayor’s personal integrity in doubt. Until now. The mayor seeks special dispensation from the press and the public for his qualified Trump support, but he does not deserve it.