If Jeff Denham can’t reject Trump, we must reject him

For Jeff Denham, Donald Trump isn’t going away.

We have repeatedly asked Rep. Denham where he stands on Trump’s candidacy; does he endorse him or reject him? And we’ve gotten only silence or coy rejoinders from his campaign staff that Denham will support the “nominee of the Republican Party.” A spokesman said last week it doesn’t matter to voters.

But Trump has made himself into a national litmus test, and it absolutely matters.

Supporting Trump is supporting racism, misogyny, business chicanery, bullying, unparalleled narcissism and more. Repudiating Trump’s brand of politics should be easy, as it has been for some of the nation’s most steadfast Republicans. But Denham – seeking a fourth term to represent Stanislaus County and part of San Joaquin in Congress – has remained silent, apparently hoping the issue, if not Trump himself, will disappear.

That hasn’t happened. Now, even standing quietly behind Trump comes at a price.

The Bee doesn’t expect those who represent us to agree with all of our priorities – otherwise we wouldn’t have endorsed Denham for the California Senate and three times for the House of Representatives. When many of our neighbors disagreed with The Bee and supported Mitt Romney or John McCain or George W. Bush, we didn’t question their ethics or patriotism. They simply chose someone offering a conservative philosophy over one more progressive.

But we want those whom we endorse to stand on principle when it counts. It counts now.

No other candidate has ever disparaged a Gold Star mother as Trump attacked Ghazala Khan. Astonishingly, he compared his business success to the sacrifice of her son. By Tuesday, his surrogates were saying Ghazala’s husband Khzir was connected to terrorist organizations. Despicable.

No other candidate has insisted on building a wall between America and one of our closest neighbors (the one with mostly brown-skinned people). No other candidate has suggested he’ll abandon NATO allies. No other candidate has joked that Russia should hack into opponents’ computers.

Dozens of principled Republicans either never backed Trump or have repudiated him – among them 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, former presidents George W. and George H.W. Bush, the governors of Ohio, Massachusetts, Michigan and Maryland; Sens. Jeff Flake (Arizona), Mark Kirk (Illinois), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), Dean Heller (Nevada) and Ben Sasse (Nebraska). In the House, representatives from New York, Texas, Florida, Illinois, Virginia and Missouri have refused to endorse him or backed away.

Many Californians have #neverTrump, including former gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, Rep. David Valadao of Hanford, Sen. Anthony Cannella and dozens more.

We’d prefer Denham stand with these principled people than with those siding with Trump – which includes accused corporate criminal Martin Shkreli, disgraced baseball player Pete Rose, reality TV star Tila Tequila and headbanger Ted Nugent.

This is not an endorsement of Democrat Michael Eggman. We didn’t endorse Eggman when he ran against Denham in 2014, noting his lack of previous public service and the fact he doesn’t even live in the district. Nothing has changed, except Eggman’s campaign tactics – entirely based on welding Denham to Trump’s hip. But this isn’t about Eggman.

Jeff Denham needs to own his opinion. If his conscience tells him to back Trump, then he should say it. If he can’t abide Trump’s unrestrained ego and veiled race baiting, he should say that, too.

Undoubtedly, it will anger many of Trump’s cultlike followers, who excuse his every excess and parrot even his most egregious slurs. But abandoning Trump would allay the fears of thousands of Democrats who have voted for Denham in the past; people who cannot tolerate Trump and who won’t stand among those who support him.

Yes, Donald Trump is a litmus test, and Jeff Denham has failed it.