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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump watches as a member of the audience is removed from his rally in Sarasota, FL Nov. 28, 2015.
Scott Audette—Reuters

Darlena Cunha is a contributor to TIME

Donald Trump is a breath of fresh air in a Republican primary filled with tired political rhetoric. The real-estate mogul uses direct, no-nonsense language, concocts fast, brazen solutions to the nation’s problems, and channels the us-versus-them mentality that appeals to many Americans. Trump recently said Muslims “went wild” in celebration after 9/11, mocked a disabled reporter, and seemed to suggest that those who disrupt his rallies deserve to be “roughed up.”

Republican leadership has, up until this point, side-eyed his plans, laughed at his buffoonish antics and scoffed at his campaign. They’ve all but ignored him for anything other than the joke he should be.

But he’s not a joke. And he may just be exactly what the Republican Party needs.

Some Republican leaders are beginning to realize that they’re to blame for Trump’s success, and they’re the ones who have to fix the mess they’ve made. For that, Donald Trump is a hero.

Last week, Republican presidential hopeful, John Kasich, finally called Trump’s spade a spade. He came out fists-first to put an end to any political alignment between the two, and he compared The Don to The Fuhrer. The break with Trump is long-past due. Republicans, come collect your cousin.

Republicans have been priming their voter base for a Trump-style campaign for years, without necessarily realizing where they were headed. As the Tea Party started vying for power, more moderate Republicans shifted their views ever so slightly from conservative values of fiscal responsibility and small government to fear mongering and isolationist appeals.

Afraid of losing their base, many Republicans never came down hard on those spewing hatred and fear. Instead, they shook hands and looked the other way. And in doing so, they accidentally endorsed that extremism.

The rest of the party voters have in turn shifted their values. After all, if the leaders feel dumping millions of people across the border and building a wall is a legitimate solution to an ongoing systemic problem, it’s a lot easier for the common voter to make that jump as well. Whether or not anyone other than Trump actually sold that line is irrelevant.

The Republican Party now finds itself between a rock and a hard place. But by forcing members within the party to really examine the hidden baseline of their rhetoric, Trump offers hope.

The candidate’s flood of racist, elitist comments is forcing Republicans to see where the party is headed. By making them confront the possible future as a present reality, Trump may encourage former Tea-party-bound Republicans to re-examine their stances and head back toward moderate ideas. In this backward way, he may be save the party (and perhaps the nation) from itself.

Perhaps he’s finally gone far enough. He recently dropped 12 points in the polls. Then again, a new poll finds him back on top.

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