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  1. Opinion

Nickens: Stand up to Trump or be stained by him

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi campaigns for Donald Trump in Jacksonville last week. She blindly follows a man morally and temperamentally unfit for the presidency.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi campaigns for Donald Trump in Jacksonville last week. She blindly follows a man morally and temperamentally unfit for the presidency.
Published Aug. 6, 2016

In a political year unlike any other, there are profiles in courage and profiles in political pandering that will define someone's character long after the election is over.

Last week, the news broke that Sally Bradshaw — former Gov. Jeb Bush's closest adviser — has left the Republican Party and may vote for Hillary Clinton for president.

"This is a time when country has to take priority over political parties. Donald Trump cannot be elected president,'' Bradshaw told CNN in an email, adding that the Republican Party is "at a crossroads and have nominated a total narcissist — a misogynist — a bigot.''

Two days later, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi introduced Trump at a Daytona Beach campaign rally that drew 8,000 supporters.

"As a prosecutor for 16 years, I know he respects our first responders and our men and women in uniform,'' Bondi told the crowd. "Independence Day is coming early next year, on a beautiful wintry day when Donald Trump is sworn in as president of the United States.''

Bradshaw, who lives outside Tallahassee, has spent most of her life advocating for Republican principles. After Mitt Romney's loss in the 2012 election, she co-chaired a review for the national party that called for more inclusiveness and better outreach efforts to women, blacks and Hispanics. For her to change her party registration to no party affiliation and announce she will vote for Clinton if the race is close in Florida is a courageous move to put decency and human values above partisan politics.

Bondi shows no such independence. She blindly follows a man morally and temperamentally unfit for the presidency, basking in the spotlight and gushing over Trump's candidacy at the Republican National Convention last month and in Jacksonville and Daytona Beach last week.

With each Trump outburst, Republicans are having to make painful personal choices. How can they stand with a Republican nominee so unprepared, so unsuited to lead this nation?

To their credit, there are other Florida Republicans besides Bradshaw who have put their personal integrity above blind loyalty to a political party in turmoil.

Jeb Bush has done the right thing by refusing to support Trump. Incoming Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, has not endorsed the presidential nominee. Neither has U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Belleair Bluffs. Kathleen Shanahan, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney and to Jeb Bush, won't vote for Trump. By Friday, even former Ambassador Mel Sembler — who helped host a Tampa fundraiser for Trump less than two weeks ago — would not tell the Tampa Bay Times if he intend to vote for Trump.

Nobody would accuse any of them of not being conservative, loyal Republicans.

Yet Bondi blindly follows the demagogue, and Gov. Rick Scott is no better. He now chairs a super political action committee helping Trump.

At last week's Cabinet meeting, Scott could not even muster mild criticism of Trump's shameful treatment of the parents of Humayun Khan, a U.S. Army captain and a Muslim who was killed by a car bomb in Iraq. Bondi at least said she disagreed with Trump's criticism of Khan's mother for remaining silent as her husband spoke at the Democratic National Convention.

But that is not the response required to a man who would attack the Muslim family of an American hero and claim he also has made sacrifices when he avoided military service. That is not the response expected from the first woman elected as the state's attorney general to a presidential nominee who has demeaned women and insulted Hispanics and the disabled. That is not the response needed from the state's chief legal officer to a man who has attacked the integrity of the courts and suggests the November election will be rigged.

Bondi will not even call on Trump to apologize for his criticism of the Khan family. That's not surprising. Her judgment regarding the billionaire has always been suspect.

How can we explain why the attorney general's office declined to pursue complaints against Trump University and Trump-related entities or join a New York investigation after her political committee received a $25,000 contribution from the Trump Foundation that she personally solicited from Trump? Her feeble protests that her office never initiated a formal investigation and that there were few consumer complaints during her tenure are not persuasive.

This presidential election transcends public policy differences or governing philosophy. It's about fundamental values such as respect for others and basic competency. Trump lacks both, and those who support him cannot choose which part of the billionaire to embrace and ignore the bigotry and the sexism. They are condoning the ugliness and the meanness. Whether Trump wins or loses, Republicans will be judged in the future by whether they actively supported him or put their values and America's future above politics.

"This election cycle is a test,'' Bradshaw told CNN. "As much as I don't want another four years of Obama's policies, I can't look my children in the eye and tell them I voted for Donald Trump. I can't tell them to love their neighbor and treat others the way they wanted to be treated, and then vote for Donald Trump. I won't do it.''

Nobody expects Scott or Bondi to leave the Republican Party. But it's a shame Florida's governor and attorney general don't have the same respect for human decency or the same concern for the nation's future.

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