There's a perfectly logical reason why any Republican would decide that getting behind Donald Trump is the least bad option they face. If you genuinely care about conservative policy goals, the chance that you'll see the government move in your favored direction under President Hillary Clinton is approximately zero, while with President Trump you'd at worst see many of those goals come to fruition. You'd get a conservative Supreme Court, an executive branch filled with Republicans, and probably many areas where Trump, who plainly doesn't care at all about the details of policy, just tells the congressional GOP to write whatever bills it wants and he'll sign them. In short, ideology demands Trump, ironic as that may be given that he was the least ideological Republican running.
And yet, the end point of that perfectly logical chain of thinking is still supporting Donald Trump. Donald Trump the ignoramus, Donald Trump the liar, Donald Trump the buffoon, Donald Trump the xenophobic sexist narcissist all-around jerk. And supporting him, in today's media-saturated world, also means defending him.
This is the reality of contemporary partisanship: While there are people (like yours truly, thank goodness) who are permitted to be equivocal about politicians, partisans have no such liberty. Their guy must be defended almost no matter what, while the other side's champion is cast as a model of perfect villainy, worthy of not a single vote. It's a ridiculous ritual, and it takes a candidate as ridiculous as Trump to make that clear. Just as the Constitution mandates that even the most heinous criminal should be granted a vigorous defense in court, our media demand that even the most despicable politician have someone defend him on cable news. If you find it depressing to watch some party "strategist" or elected official laboring painfully to argue that Trump's policy choices are quite clever, or that his latest outrageous statement actually contains a kernel of timeless wisdom, just imagine how they feel doing it.
Look at what we've heard about Trump in the last few days. There's the extensively-reported story in The New York Times of Trump's sleazy treatment of women over the years, including those with whom he had romantic relationships, those who worked for him, and participants in the Miss Universe pageant he used to own (which in no way did he purchase because he wanted to bang beauty queens, absolutely not, how could you think such a thing). The story is pretty much what you would expect, which means it details behavior on Trump's part ranging from the comical to the rancid. And that followed a Washington Post story on Trump's old habit of calling up reporters pretending to be a Trump PR guy named "John Miller" or "John Barron," who would then wax rhapsodic about his boss's extraordinary accomplishments, both financial and sexual.
What would you say about all that if you were a Trump supporter staring into a camera? You'd probably say what RNC chair Reince Priebus did in his round of Sunday show interviews, dismissing the allegations one moment and trying to change the subject the next, then arguing that it's irrelevant when what we should really be talking about is Benghazi.
As one Republican said on Twitter, "I can handle Trump. But watching people I once respected and ought to know better rationalizing and validating him makes me physically ill." Fair enough, but what is Reince Priebus supposed to do? I suppose he could say, "You're right, we really screwed the pooch by nominating this train wreck of a candidate. This is a living nightmare." But he has to put as brave a face as he can on things, because that's his job. And he really does want to help Trump get elected, even if he wishes someone else had won the nomination, because from where he stands the alternative is much worse.
Keep in mind that there are going to be many more stories like the ones this weekend, because we have seen only the tip of the lurid iceberg that is Donald Trump's oppo file. You can bet that the Clinton campaign has many stories about Trump that it will be feeding reporters on a regular schedule between now and November. Some may not check out, but others will, and I seriously doubt the media will be deterred from pursuing them by Trump's insults (and they'll be doing the same thing to Clinton, just as they have for the last couple of decades).
As the campaign goes on, it will nearly impossible for Republicans to escape questions about Trump, since whenever it's been a while since a juicy revelation, Trump will help out by saying something disgusting or appallingly dumb (the latest: He says that Syrian refugees are coming to the U.S. carrying phones with ISIS flags on them, and ISIS is also paying their phone bills. Which, you have to admit, is pretty poor tradecraft if you're trying to smuggle terrorists into America). In a better world, politicians would be able to be completely frank about a situation like this. They could say, "Yeah, the guy's a monumental pig, not to mention a fool. Who knows what the hell we'll be in for if he becomes president. But I just don't want another Democrat elected, and that's what it comes down to."
They can't say that, because we're all so used to talking about presidential campaigns not as ideological contests but as personality contests. So Republicans have to pretend that they oppose Hillary Clinton not just because she's a liberal and they're conservatives—which ought to be more than reason enough—but also because she's some kind of cartoonish psychopath who would strangle your children's puppy if she had the chance. They have to say that Clinton is a worse person than Trump, or that he's somehow more qualified to be president because he's a businessman, or that his can-do spirit is just what we need to clean up Washington.
They don't believe any of it. How could they? But they have no choice but to keep on saying it, no matter how it eats at their souls. Just be glad that's not your job.