Frank Bruni:

I keep reading that Donald Trump is wrecking the Republican Party. I keep hearing that he’s a threat to the fortunes of every other Republican presidential candidate, because he sullies the brand and puts them in an impossible position.

What bunk. The truth is that he’s an opportunity for them as golden as the namesake nameplates on his phallic towers, if only they would seize it.

The brand was plenty sullied before he lent his huff and his hair to the task. And by giving his Republican rivals a perfect foil, he also gives them a perfect chance to rehabilitate and redeem the party.

As it stands now, he’s using them.

If they had any guts, they could use him.

They could piggyback on the outsize attention that he receives, answering his unhinged tweets and idiotic utterances with something sane and smart, knowing that it, too, would get prominent notice.

They could define themselves in the starkest possible contrast to him, calling him out as the bully and bigot that he is. Then he wouldn’t own the story, because the narrative would be about cooler heads and kinder hearts in the party staring down one of its most needlessly divisive ambassadors and saying: Enough. No more. We’re serious people at the limit of our patience for provocateurs.

There was a hint of this last weekend, when Jeb Bush, whose wife is Mexican-American, lashed out at Trump’s broad-brush comments about Mexican immigrants crossing into America with an agenda of drugs and rape.

Bush labeled those remarks “extraordinarily ugly” and “way out of the mainstream” and said that there’s “no tolerance” for them.

But he didn’t exactly volunteer that assessment. It came in response to a reporter’s question, and it came more than two weeks after Trump’s offense.

Neither he nor Marco Rubio exhibited any hurry in distancing themselves from Trump, though both of them trumpet their personal biographies as proof that they’re sensitive to Latino immigrants.

On Fox Business on Tuesday, Rubio gave a pathetic master class in cowardly evasion, stammering his way though an interview in which he was asked repeatedly for an opinion about Trump. You would have thought that he was being pressed for malicious gossip about the Easter bunny.

He never did manage to upbraid Trump, though he was careful to mention the “legitimate issue” of border security that Trump had raised.

As in 2012, Republicans can’t summon the courage to take on the dark heroes of the party’s lunatic fringe. As in 2012, this could cost them dearly.

 

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