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Editorial: GOP primary voters need Trump's leading rivals to answer the question that matters most

Chicago Tribune Editorial Board, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Political News

The fourth Republican presidential debate thankfully featured just four candidates rather than the cattle call we saw in previous sessions. But, whether there are four or 14 running, the same problem persists.

There’s only one — former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — willing to tell primary voters what too many of them apparently don’t want to hear. Donald Trump is unfit to be president and presents an unacceptable threat to our democracy.

To our ears, the key moment in the debate was when Christie answered that question directly and then challenged the other three to say whether or not they considered Trump fit to return to the White House. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis danced around the issue, saying he thought a younger person than Trump ought to be the one.

That, of course, wasn’t the question. Nikki Haley, the former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina governor who increasingly is viewed as the best chance within the GOP of defeating Trump, stood stone silent.

“This is the problem with my three colleagues,” Christie then intoned. “They’re afraid to offend.”

And therein lies the problem: In the words of Founding Father Thomas Paine: “He who dares not offend cannot be honest.”

These candidates can — and obviously do — talk about Joe Biden’s age and policies, immigration, the disgraceful cowardice of university presidents in confronting antisemitism on campus, and the various other issues animating the race. But there really is just one pressing concern for the GOP. Will the party excise the foul stain of Trump, now under indictment and charged with multiple crimes, including inciting an insurrection against the United States?

The strategy behind not “offending” is understandable. Trump, with a daunting lead in the polls, is viewed favorably by a substantial segment of the GOP base. Criticizing him forcefully risks turning off those voters.

 

Christie, of course, has nothing to lose. His reason for still being in the race is to compel GOP voters to confront the elephant in the room; he clearly isn’t expecting to be nominated. In holding feet to the flame, he is providing a valuable service to his party and to the country.

But so long as Haley and DeSantis, the two candidates perceived as having any realistic chance at beating Trump to the nomination, shrink from the overarching issue, there’s little point to their candidacies.

What makes Trump problematic? Why would they give the party a better chance at victory in November?

Continuing to cower in this way surely will mean eventual defeat anyway.

At this point, there’s nothing to lose. Tell GOP primary voters the truth.

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