More than 50 years ago – back when the US Senate was looking for communist sympathizers in the State Department and other government agencies – Joseph Welch, chief counsel for the United States Army, asked this of Senator Joseph McCarthy: “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
That plea for decency – perhaps the most famous question in the history of congressional inquiries – comes to mind when considering the latest turn in the saga of billionaire developer and Republican candidate for president Donald Trump.
Mr. Trump was to have been the headliner at Saturday’s gathering organized by influential conservative blogger and radio broadcaster Erick Erickson, founder and editor-in-chief of RedState.com. Instead, Mr. Erickson has “disinvited” Trump for comments made about Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, widely interpreted as not only crude but clearly misogynistic.
In a tough line of questioning during Thursday evening’s GOP presidential debate, Ms. Kelly rhetorically battered Trump on his past comments about women.
“You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals,' " Kelly said.”How will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who [is] likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women?”
Trump tried to evade the question by charging that it was just part of “political correctness.”
Later, speaking of Kelly, Trump told CNN’s Don Lemon: “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her – wherever.”
That was too much for RedState’s Erickson, who posted this just before midnight Friday: “I have tried to give a great deal of latitude to Donald Trump in his run for the Presidency. He is not a professional politician and is known for being a blunt talker. He connects with so much of the anger in the Republican base and is not afraid to be outspoken on a lot of issues. But there are even lines blunt talkers and unprofessional politicians should not cross. Decency is one of those lines.”
It seemed to be a “more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger” moment for Erickson, who concluded:
“…while Mr. Trump resonates with a lot of people with his bluntness, including me to a degree, there are just real lines of decency a person running for President should not cross. His comment was inappropriate. It is unfortunate to have to disinvite him. But I just don’t want someone on stage who gets a hostile question from a lady and his first inclination is to imply it was hormonal. It just was wrong.”
Politico.com’s Katie Glueck called it “one of the most significant public rebukes of the controversial Republican presidential contender to date.”
Some of the other Republican presidential hopefuls weighed in as well.
Carly Fiorina tweeted: “Mr. Trump. There. Is. No. Excuse. I stand with @megynkelly.”
In a statement Saturday, Sen. Lindsey Graham said, “As a party, we are better to risk losing without Donald Trump than trying to win with him. Enough already with Mr. Trump.”
Looking for safe political ground, the Republican National Committee called on Trump to “immediately clarify” his comments about Kelly, but said it would be "highly inappropriate" if Trump stood by his remarks.
So far, Trump is not backing down, and he’s turned most of his ire on the head of RedState.com and the disinvitation to appear Saturday at the conservative gathering in Atlanta.
“This is just another example of weakness through being politically correct,” Trump's campaign said in statement Saturday. “For all of the people who were looking forward to Mr. Trump coming, we will miss you. Blame Erick Erickson, your weak and pathetic leader. We’ll now be doing another campaign stop at another location.”
In 1954, the US Senate formally censured Sen. Joseph McCarthy for his conduct, concluding that he had “acted contrary to senatorial ethics and tended to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute, to obstruct the constitutional processes of the Senate, and to impair its dignity.”
Today’s situation with Donald Trump doesn’t rise to that level of political seriousness that the McCarthy-led hearings did. But both “McCarthyism” and “Trumpism” – yes, that’s a word, defined recently by former Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry as “a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued” – have a lot to do with “decency.”