Republican party leaders may have worried that Donald Trump would not only lose the general election for the presidency, but would so poison the image of the party as to cause Republican candidates for Congress and for state and local offices to also lose. Now they seem to be trying to patch things up, in order to present an image of unity before the general elections this fall.
Regardless of how that attempt at patching up an image turns out, Trump's candidacy could be not only a current political setback for Republicans, but an enduring affliction in future elections.
For decades after Republican President Herbert Hoover was demonized because the Great Depression of the 1930s began on his watch, Democrats warned repeatedly, in a series of later presidential elections, that a vote for the Republican candidate was a vote to return to the days of Herbert Hoover.
It was 20 years before another Republican was elected president. As late as the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan was called by the Democrats' Speaker of the House, "Hoover with a smile." When a high official of the Reagan administration appeared before Congress to explain the administration's policy, a Democratic Senator said, "That's Hoover talk, man!"
Actually, it was a policy proposal the opposite of that of the Hoover administration, but who in politics worries about the truth? The point is that Hoover was still being used as a bogeyman, more than 40 years after he left office, and nearly two decades after he was dead. Trump's image could easily play a very similar role.
The political damage of Donald Trump to the Republican party is completely overshadowed by the damage he can do to the country and to the world, with his unending reckless and irresponsible statements. Just this week, Trump blithely remarked that South Korea should be left to its own defenses.
Whatever the merits or demerits of that as a policy, announcing it to the whole world in advance risks encouraging North Korea to invade South Korea — as it did back in 1950, after careless words by a high American official left the impression that South Korea was not included in the American defense perimeter against the Communists in the Pacific.
The old World War II phrase — "loose lips sink ships" — applies on land as well as on the water. And no one has looser lips than Donald Trump, who repeatedly spouts whatever half-baked idea pops into his head. A man in his 60s has life-long habits that are not likely to change. Age brings habits, even if it does not bring maturity.
Nations around the world risk their own survival when they ally themselves with the United States in the fight against international terrorists — and we need their cooperation in that fight, in order to track down hidden terrorists and the hidden money that finances them.
If nations cannot have confidence in American commitments and American leadership, we are not likely to get their cooperation. And the stakes are life and death.
What the Republican establishment once feared most — that Trump would lose the nomination and run on a third party — now seems to be a danger that has passed. But a far larger danger to something far more important, American society, is that Trump could be elected President of the United States.
Those who talk about "the will of the people" need to know that neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton represents the will of the people. Polls repeatedly show these two with the highest negative reactions of any of the candidates in either party. A majority of the people polled have negative reactions to each.
Hillary Clinton's much-vaunted "experience" has been an experience in carrying out a policy that has failed disastrously from the Middle East to Ukraine to North Korea. We don't need more of that kind of experience.
What was once feared most by the Republican establishment — a third party candidate for President — may represent the only slim chance for saving this country from a catastrophic administration in an age of proliferating nuclear weapons.
If a third party candidate could divide the vote enough to prevent anyone from getting an electoral college majority, that would throw the election into the House of Representatives, where any semblance of sanity could produce a better president than these two.
Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His website is www.tsowell.com. To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.