Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump

The Associated Press

Most Republicans do not want Donald Trump to be their party's nominee. Yet the billionaire is well on his way to clinching the nomination and remaking the party in his image.

Who is to blame for Trump?

Start with Reince Priebus and Paul Ryan.

Priebus and Ryan are the formal and informal leaders of the Republican Party. Priebus chairs the Republican National Committee. Ryan is the GOP’s immediate former vice presidential nominee, the speaker of the House and the party’s point man on economics.

Both Wisconsinites are card-carrying members of the GOP establishment. Both have deep ties to Wall Street and long records of bending the party's programs and policies to favor Wall Street over the grass roots.

Priebus and his allies on the RNC established the 2016 primary process and debate schedule. Ryan, in addition to being the most prominent Republican on Capitol Hill, leads the RNC’s Presidential Trust, a slush fund that raises money for the eventual nominee.

Both Priebus and Ryan have a lot of reasons for wanting the next president to be a Republican, as each man’s personal power is enhanced by Republican dominance. Yet, both men have signaled that they have no standards whatsoever for who that Republican might be.

Any Republican will do. Even Trump.

Priebus and Ryan have offered (very) mild rebukes when Trump has preached the ugliest xenophobic, racist and sexist dogmas. But they have also made it clear that Trump is acceptable to them. As such, they have signaled to Trump backers and swing voters that the billionaire is a comfortable enough fit for the Republican Party.

That’s not what every Republican believes. Some Republicans refuse to go along. Congressman Reid Ribble, another Wisconsin Republican, says, “I am not obligated to support a bad candidate from any party. I will not support Donald Trump for president of the United States, no matter what the circumstances.”

There are also examples of Democratic leaders who refused to allow their party to be defined by crude extremists. At a critical stage in the civil rights era, Democratic National Committee chairman Paul Butler embraced the cause of desegregation and promoted voting rights proposals that Southern Democrats despised; Butler was attacked by prominent Democrats for taking steps that would “break this party to pieces.” But Butler did not waver, because he believed that getting on the right side of the future was more important than blind partisanship.

Unfortunately, that’s not how Priebus and Ryan see things.

Priebus and Ryan are political careerists with long histories of putting self-interest and simplistic partisanship ahead of principle. In so doing, they have enabled the rise of Donald Trump. And they will continue to do so, no matter how much harm is done to the targets of Trump's venom and to these United States.

Don’t blame Trump for being Trump. He is who he is.

Don’t blame Republican voters who fall for Trump's empty promises.

Blame the Republican “leaders” who have refused to lead. Blame Priebus and Ryan for refusing to reject Trump, and for enabling the makeover of the GOP from the “Party of Lincoln” to the “Party of Trump.”

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. jnichols@madison.com and @NicholsUprising

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Associate Editor of the Cap Times