In defense of compromise

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures while speaking during a campaign stop at Exeter Town Hall in Exeter, N.H., Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Donald Trump has done a lot of colorful name-calling in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. So when the brash front-runner finished second to Ted Cruz in Monday night’s Iowa Caucuses, some detractors of “The Donald” predictably aimed the word “loser” — perhaps his most overused insult — back at him.

But on Wednesday, Jimmy Carter used another word to describe Mr. Trump. The former president told the British House of Lords that if he had to pick between the top two GOP finishers in not just Iowa but current national polls:

“I think I would choose Trump, which may surprise some of you, but the reason is Trump has proven already that he’s completely malleable. I don’t think he has any fixed opinions that he would really go to the White House and fight for.”

President Carter added: “Ted Cruz is not malleable. He has far right-wing policies, in my opinion, that would be pursued aggressively if and when he would become president.”

In this case, Webster’s New World Dictionary’s second definition of “malleable” applies: “capable of being changed, molded, trained, etc.; adaptable.”

Of course, Sen. Cruz rapidly seized upon Mr. Carter’s assessment, telling a Wednesday rally in Nashua, N.H.:

“Today — and I’m not making this up — Jimmy Carter endorsed Donald Trump. Here’s what Jimmy Carter said: The reason is Donald’s views are malleable, he has no core beliefs on anything. ... This Cruz guy actually believes this stuff.”

Actually, Mr. Carter did not “endorse” Mr. Trump. During those same remarks in Parliament, Mr. Carter said would support the Democratic nominee. He also said that though Hillary Clinton would still “very likely” be that candidate, Bernie Sanders “has had a remarkable showing, particularly among young people.”

And it would be quite remarkable for any candidate of any party to welcome the “malleable” label. After all, winning your party’s presidential nomination requires appealing to its ideological base.

Still, many Americans correctly decry the protracted hyper-partisanship that perpetuates Washington gridlock.

Yes, some serious challenges defy compromise answers. However, many others — for instance, delivering long-overdue entitlement and immigration reforms — demand that those from the right and the left meet in the middle.

Yet if too many voters persist in scorning candidates who seek necessary — and positive — compromises, elected officials will remain wary of reaching across the aisle.

They know all too well what happened to John Boehner, who stepped down as House speaker last fall after repeatedly being condemned by the hard right for being too willing to find common ground with Democrats.

The final straw against Rep. Boehner in that misguided view: He agreed to a budget compromise that averted the risk of a federal government shutdown.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump has been — and will continue to be — called much worse things than “malleable.”

Then again, that’s not a word used by those who really have been endorsing Mr. Trump, including S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster last week and former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown Tuesday.

But regardless of whom you endorse for president if you vote in one of the looming S.C. primaries (GOP on Feb. 20, Democratic on Feb. 27), try to be malleable enough to consider this possibility:

Staying true to a party’s principles doesn’t require reflexively rejecting the possibility of bipartisan compromise solutions to our nation’s problems.