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Republicans Can’t Decide if Hillary Is a She-Devil or Not

The GOP was happy to portray Clinton as evil incarnate. Then Trump came along.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

This week, Hillary Clinton launched “Together for America,” an effort to convince Republicans and Independents to join her campaign and defeat Donald Trump. In the past few weeks, endorsements from Republicans have been coming in at a steady clip. Former HP CEO Meg Whitman; former government officials Hank Paulson, John Negroponte, Brent Scowcroft, and Richard Armitage; and political operatives like Sally Bradshaw and Maria Comella are just a few of the high-profile Republicans who have come out publicly for Hillary.

Several pundits—and even some Republicans themselves—have cast this choice as putting love of country above love of party. We are supposed to understand that there is something honorable, even courageous, in their decision to vote Democratic. Many claim they will be doing so for the first time.

And yet, in their attempts to express how sincerely and deeply they oppose Trump, these Republicans are revealing just how insincere their party has been about hating on Hillary all these decades. Because if 25 years of Clinton attacks can suddenly turn into a wave of presidential endorsements, one has to wonder just how much of a devil Republicans really think Clinton is.

Of course, this is no ordinary campaign and Trump no ordinary nominee. Any hope that Trump might pivot to the general election and lay off the outrageous and offensive remarks is all but lost. Still, it is one thing for these Republicans to say they will not vote for Trump, and quite another to endorse Clinton. They could have come out against Trump without backing Sworn Enemy Number One. Susan Collins and John Kasich, for instance, are two notable Trump resisters who have not thrown their support behind Clinton. 

These Republicans could have chosen to back a third-party candidate like Gary Johnson, or, if that wasn’t palatable, explain that they will be abstaining in the presidential race and voting Republican down-ticket. Endorsing Clinton is, for all intents and purposes, an admission that the progressive Democrat—the woman who has promised to build upon the Obama agenda, the “corrupt,” “crooked,”  scandal­–plagued, Benghazi-lying former secretary of state—is the person they prefer to see as president.

Supporting Clinton in the face of Trump may not be tantamount to endorsing all of her policy prescriptions, but it sure as hell is saying that she has a better vision for America. By rejecting the leader of their party, these Republicans—whether they mean to or not—are rejecting what their party has become. Perhaps they think that by defeating Trump resoundingly, they will be able to root out the extremists who have taken hold of their party. This assumes there will even be a party for them to return to after Clinton wins—which she now looks likely to do, overwhelmingly—and not some drastic mutation they no longer care to be a part of.  

There is something deliciously ironic about members of the Republican Party establishment, which for years has at least tacitly embraced all of the most vicious conspiracy theories about the Clintons and the Obamas, now turning to Clinton as their savior. Where, one must ask, was their loyalty to country when right-wing media was running Vince Foster conspiracy stories and 24-7 Benghazi marathons? What has made them decide that this is the moment they must finally speak up, and not, for instance, when Mitt Romney was getting Trump’s endorsement after he ran off at the mouth about Obama’s birth certificate?

For decades, the right has caricatured Clinton as a power-hungry, corrupt she-devil. The hyperbolic, conspiracy-tinged approach was applied to Obama as well, with Republicans maligning him as an illegitimate foreigner who was the worst president of their lifetimes (if not ever). If all these accusations are true, shouldn’t Republicans be doing everything in their power to ensure an end to his reign? Clinton may save them from Trump, but she won’t be saving them from the cementing of Obama’s legacy. 

Perhaps, then, what these Trump defectors reveal to us is not the sacrifices they are making for the good of their country, but rather how hollow and disingenuous Republican hatred of Clinton really is. One doesn’t endorse “Lucifer” unless she’s not really all that bad—indeed, far better than the guy picked by your own party.

How is it, then, that the Republicans have nominated their own greater of two evils? Push a narrative long enough—keep feeding your base that their president is illegitimate and his would-be successor a crooked liar—and you can’t really be surprised that many of them believe Clinton really is the devil, someone who should be “locked up” and “be put in front of a firing line and shot for treason.” Just because party establishment types know to take the most extreme rhetoric of talk radio and right-wing media with a grain of salt, doesn’t mean the average Republican voter of 2016 does.

The surprise isn’t that the Republican establishment is horrified at Trump’s ascendance. The surprise is that they didn’t see it coming. The blatant transparency of their politics is now on full display—fomenting anger and riling up your base with faux outrage may be a perfectly acceptable strategy to elect someone like John McCain or Romney, but not, it seems, to elect someone like Trump. By endorsing Clinton, these Republicans have revealed their true colors: Being #withher, it seems, is not so bad after all.