Donald Trump’s victory in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary brought the party’s nominating contest to a critical stage with but nine days until the March 1 primaries in 12 states ranging from Texas to Massachusetts.
Voters are no longer simply selecting a candidate to amplify their anger and send a message to what they view as a corrupt party establishment. They are closing in on choosing the standard-bearer of the Party of Lincoln — and, if things break the GOP’s way in November, a President.
With so much at stake so quickly, America can only hope that, at long last, GOP voters will curb Trump’s juggernaut in favor of a mainstream candidate who suggests he has the character to occupy the White House.
Trump has ridden high as a tribune of anger at diminished national economic opportunity and Washington paralysis, compounded by upset that control of Congress has failed to deliver conservative policy gains.
Propelled by the fury, Trump has successfully exploited a dark vision of America; spouted insults, vulgarities and falsehoods; proposed plans that are impossible, inane or both, and dominated both the debate and his rivals.
They may have just these nine days to turn him back.
Nine days to expose his penchant for discarding truth.
Nine days to show that his tax-and-spending plans would disastrously damage the economy.
Nine days to show that his foreign policy amounts to say-anything bluster.
Broadly speaking, the GOP field is wrongheaded in supporting absolutist positions on gun control and relying on extreme tax cuts to energize growth and job creation. Those who once supported comprehensive immigration reform — Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio — have been forced into ideological purity.
Many Republican primary voters cheer even as Trump vows immigration policies that are obviously beyond legal, logistical and budgetary power.
Clearly, Mexico will never pay for a wall along the border. Clearly, America will never manage a mass deportation of 11 million undocumented residents. Clearly, there will never be an anti-Muslim religious test for entry into the country.
The weapons for a Trump takedown are elsewhere.
Fact: As sketched on his website, Trump’s tax and spending plans would add as much as $15 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years, according to the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
Fact: Balancing Trump’s budget would necessitate huge cuts to Social Security and Medicare, which Trump has pledged to protect, as well as cuts to the military, which Trump has pledged to make “bigger, better, faster than ever before so that nobody messes with us” while also saying he wants to “do it for a lot less.”
Fact: His tax plans would deliver massive windfalls to the richest Americans at the expense of the working and middle classes. The richest 0.1% of Americans would get an average tax cut of $1.3 million in 2017, or 19% of their after-tax income; the average cut for everyone else would be just over $5,000, or 7% of their income.
Fact: Trump’s promise to save $300 million annually by negotiating drug prices through Medicare is preposterous given that the entire program cost $78 billion in 2014.
Fact: Imposing a 45% tariff on products manufactured in China would punish the world with a devastating trade war.
Fact: Trump’s promise to torture — not just to waterboard — terrorists would violate the Geneva Conventions and endanger captured U.S. troops.
Fact: Trump has flip-flopped on ISIS, saying both that he would “bomb the s--t out of” the terror group and leave the fight in Syria to Russia with the shrug, “if they want to hit ISIS, that’s OK with me.”
Fact: His signature bit of bluster, “attack the oil and keep the oil,” makes no sense when subjected to a moment’s scrutiny.
Fact: Trump’s oft-repeated statement that he opposed the war in Iraq has been directly contradicted by how he answered in 2002 when asked whether he supported a military invasion: “Yeah, I guess so.”
Fact: He claims he never went bankrupt. Larded with debt, his hotel, resort and casino companies filed for bankruptcy four times.
Fact: Trump claims to have lost hundreds of friends on 9/11 — yet he won’t name one of them.
Fact: While he postures as a veterans’ champion, the Donald J. Trump Foundation gave just $57,000 to veterans’ causes over a recent five-year span. It donated far more to the Clinton Foundation, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and political nonprofits.
Fact: Fact checkers who have scoured all political candidates find that Trump departs from the truth with dizzying frequency: 77% of his scrutinized statements in this campaign were totally or mostly false. Just 6% were true or mostly true.
The sane Republicans running have little time to spare in stopping Donald Trump from becoming the standard-bearer of the party of Abraham Lincoln. They have plenty of ammunition, if only they will use it effectively.