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Shawn Vestal: Cathy McMorris Rodgers and other GOP leaders display cowardice when it comes to Trump embrace

If there’s anything good arising from the fever swamp of Trump, it has been the occasional blips of political courage in the GOP, peeking from the stew of calculation, cynicism and cowardice.

Call it the Crapo Line.

Above that line are those like Idaho’s senior senator, Mike Crapo, who was out front last week among those in his party abandoning the clownish, would-be despot they have nominated. His stand earned a mention on Saturday Night Live, with Alec-Baldwin-as-Trump mispronouncing his name insultingly: “More like Crap-oh.”

Crapo joined his fellow Idaho congressman, Rep. Mike Simpson, in speaking the obvious out loud: The guy is not remotely fit to be president. Pick among a million reasons, but his cavalier boasting about sexual assault – more like jail-yard talk than locker-room talk – was the last straw for Crapo and others.

Still below the Crapo Line are Republicans like Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Raul Labrador, trying to occupy an increasingly tiny gray area between calling out Trump’s “unacceptable” behavior and saying: Accept him anyway. Paul Ryan – the leader of House leadership team on which McMorris Rodgers serves – discoed through that briar patch this week, saying that he would not campaign for Trump but not technically withdraw his endorsement, either.

Disgusting, Ryan called Trump’s comments. Accept him anyway.

I’m not talking about people who genuinely support Trump. If you have watched this debacle and plan to cast your vote for him, that’s one thing. It’s another thing entirely for party leaders to treat Trump as a spoonful of castor oil that must be swallowed, against their own values and principles; as the embarrassing, racist uncle you hate but must invite to the funeral, nervously ignoring his reprehensible jokes. It’s another thing entirely to build an entire political life on signaling a certain brand of Christian virtue and sexual puritanism, while lining up behind someone Christ might have driven from the temple with a whip.

I don’t want to pretend it’s an easy call, or that all of us don’t sometimes have to swallow hard and vote for the lesser evil. It’s not, and we do. It’s politics, and compromise is an inherent part of politics. And, though I think it’s based on hysteria and ignorance and consuming too much fake news, the opposition to Hillary Clinton runs deep enough that some people will vote against her no matter what, and I get that: I vote mostly against people, too.

But every day, in every way, Trump is putting a sales price on the GOP’s soul, a price that is measured one elected official at a time and which will continue to be paid long after Trump is gone. Crapo, Simpson and other Republicans of conscience are refusing to pay, but McMorris Rodgers keeps writing checks, covering sunk costs. How bad – how offensive, how unprepared, how ignorant, how racist, how dishonest – would Trump have to be for McMorris Rodgers and others who are still clinging to the mast to jump ship?

She’s been extremely careful on her path toward full-throated support of Trump – and Pence! Don’t forget Pence! She started with a qualified and late-ish endorsement, and then, in recent weeks, has been on board completely. Like other accommodationists, she is focused on the Supreme Court, Obamacare repeal and the holy grail: lower taxes.

If you’re for those, you can grab anybody anywhere.

Not long ago, McMorris Rodgers hosted Ivanka Trump at a huddle with congressional leaders; she hosted a similar sit-down with Trump himself in July. Then last week, she jumped back onto that gray zone: “It is never appropriate to condone unwanted sexual advances or violence against women. Mr. Trump must realize that it has no place in public or private conversations.”

But, hey, accept him anyway.

I tried to get the congresswoman to talk about this at more length this week, and her office gave me another statement: “I have said all along that I absolutely disagree with some of Donald Trump’s statements – especially the video released on Friday. I will be voting for Mr. Trump because I believe that we must defeat Hillary Clinton who has a record of deliberately misleading the American people. She lacks transparency and accountability.”

McMorris Rodgers also touted the Better Way policy agenda of the House GOP leadership.

Meanwhile, a couple of congressmen across the border were showing courage – the kind that could come back to bite them in some future primary. Simpson has never endorsed Trump, and he deepened his criticism last week. Crapo’s announcement Friday was among the very first in a small insurrection of congressional members that seems as if it might be growing.

“I have spent more than two decades working on domestic violence prevention,” he said in a statement. “Trump’s most recent excuse of ‘locker room talk’ is completely unacceptable and is inconsistent with protecting women from abusive, disparaging treatment.”

Trump is a disaster of historic proportions – a Hindenburg, a Titanic. Unless we are a worse country than I think we are, he will not win. But the residue of his candidacy will remain, uglying up the political culture, and the dynamic that allowed it to happen – a raging far-right base and the cynical grandees trying to harness them – will continue to churn through American conservatism.

Make no mistake: As much as those of us who despise Trump are paying attention to the Crapo Line, so are those who love him. That’s why you see the rhetorical limbos of Ryan and McMorris Rodgers and others. Long after he’s gone, the question will remain for GOP politicians: Where did you stand?

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

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