It’s easy to understand, and perhaps not that hard to sympathize with normal, mainstream Republicans who had to first figure out their position on Donald Trump when he emerged as a serious threat to win the GOP presidential nomination, and then perhaps adjust it when their party’s prospects became totally entwined with Trump’s political fortunes.
Today’s case study is Minnesota’s own Norm Coleman, a former DFLer turned Republican who served as two terms as mayor of St. Paul and one as U.S. senator. (Coleman was also the Republican nominee for governor in 1998, the year Jesse Ventura was elected.)
Based on what he wrote a year ago about Trump, and what he was quoted recently as saying about him, Coleman seems to be among those who have traveled the greatest distance from Trump critic to Trump enthusiast.
In March of 2016, in an op-ed for the Star Tribune headlined “I will never vote for Donald Trump; He’s a bigot, a misogynist, a fraud and a bully,” Coleman wrote:
I won’t vote for Donald Trump because of who he isn’t. He isn’t a Republican. He isn’t a conservative. He isn’t a truth teller. He’s not a uniter. Donald Trump isn’t the leader America needs after eight years of a president who deliberately divided us and fanned the flames of racial and socioeconomic strife — and, by doing so, diminished America’s standing in the world.
I also won’t vote for Donald Trump because of who he is. A bigot. A misogynist. A fraud. A bully.
It may have been the strongest Never-Trumper piece written by any Republican. I can’t be sure. He even dropped an F-bomb on Trump (in this case, the F-word was “fascist.” Coleman’s 2016 piece ended thus:
It is said that our leaders are a reflection of who we are. If we believe that, then people like Donald Trump will fall. If not, then people like Donald Trump will rise up, and like every fascist before them, will lead a nation to its doom.
America is a great nation. We were a great nation long before Donald Trump sold us on a slogan — and we can be a great nation without Trump’s false promises built on a legacy of fiction.
Keep America great. Fire Donald Trump.
Of course, if we’re going to be big boys and girls, we have to take political reality into account. The never-Trumpers failed to prevent Trump from becoming the Republican nominee or the current incumbent president. It’s awkward, and they have dealt with it in various ways, but many of them tiptoed as far away from their never-Trumper rhetoric as possible and crossed the line into Trump praisers.
Among his current activities, Coleman chairs the Republican Jewish Coalition, which advocates for Israel from a Republican and conservative viewpoint.
Because of the strength of his 2016 denunciation of Trump, I was surprised to see Coleman pop up in a recent McClatchy piece about the RJC, in which he was asked “how the center-right Jewish community feels about the Trump administration one year in.”
“I think they’re feeling thrilled,” Coleman said. “If you look at the change of what has happened with Israel, in terms of moving the capital to Jerusalem, the tough approach to Iran, holding the UN finally accountable. … I think there’s a great deal of enthusiasm in the center-right, pro-Israel community about President Trump.”
If you were trying to be fair (and I try to be fair), you would note that Coleman’s list of things the RJC likes about Trump are limited to moves relating to Israel that Republican Jews favor.
That’s true. But if you were trying to be tough, but fair, you would note that all of Trump’s moves that Coleman praised were things Trump was promising to do as a candidate, back when Coleman was calling him “a bigot, a misogynist, a fraud and a bully” and, sort of, a “facist.”