Donald Trump further out on the ledge

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Donald Trump implied gun owners should turn their sights on Hillary Clinton.
Donald Trump implied gun owners should turn their sights on Hillary Clinton. AP

As the week ended, Donald Trump found himself in a familiar place, once again having to say that he didn’t really mean what he said — in this case, that the current president of the United States was the founder of a Middle East terrorist organization.

And, no, it wasn’t just sarcasm or hyperbole. When conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt tried to talk him back from the ledge in a later interview, Mr. Trump would have none of it: “No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS,” he insisted. “I do. He was the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award. I give her, too, by the way, Hillary Clinton.”

No non-crazy person can believe that, just as they cannot believe many of the other whoppers and outrageous statements he has said before. Yet, incredible as it sounds, it wasn’t even the worst thing he said this past week.

That dubious honor is reserved for his incendiary remarks suggesting that gun owners may be the only ones who can stop Hillary Clinton from becoming president and appointing judges. He told a crowd that there is “nothing you can do” about appointments if the Democratic presidential nominee were elected. “Although, the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

We are no longer talking mere whoppers and outrageous lies. This was a vile descent into unacceptable political discourse.

It was just ambiguous enough to allow his handlers to deny that it was a threat, but there is no excuse for introducing the notion of political assassination into a presidential campaign.

Mr. Trump is old enough to remember what happened on that terrible day in Dallas in November 1963. And the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. The shooting and crippling of presidential candidate George Wallace in 1972 and the wounding of President Reagan on March 30, 1981.

What makes anyone believe it can’t happen again?

Words matter. Mr. Trump can try to backpedal and clarify all he wants, but there are crazies out there who will hear this dog-whistle, as an incitement to violence. And, no, they won’t take it as a joke gone bad, as House Speaker Paul Ryan said later. It’s not any kind of joke.

By refusing to condemn such statements, Mr. Ryan and so many other party leaders have become Mr. Trump’s mute and meek enablers. Repudiating him would not stop the brash billionaire from making delusional utterances, but failing to do so makes the party’s leaders complicit in his campaign of hatred.

Last week, Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins became the latest prominent leader of the party to say she could not vote for Donald Trump. She can see where this is going.

What about the rest of the party’s so-called leaders?

Aside from his despicable language, Mr. Trump has corrupted nation’s political discourse. There is a good case to be made that President Obama’s bad decisions in Iraq and the Middle East created a vacuum of power that allowed terror groups like the Islamic State to flourish. But in all the din over Mr. Trump’s antics, no one can hear the factual argument against Mr. Obama’s policy.

Last week’s disclosures about the connections between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department when Ms. Clinton was in charge offer new grounds to question how she would perform as president.

But as long as the incorrigible Donald Trump hogs the limelight with his scandalous language and actions, her mistakes will seem trivial by comparison. And winning what long ago could have been a winnable race for Republicans will become all but impossible.