To overlook Donald Trump’s latest scandal is to let blind partisan loyalty override any sense of judgment and propriety. There are some elements of the controversy that still need to come into focus, but the available evidence already paints an ugly picture – featuring a president who appeared to have abused his power and pressed a foreign government to intervene on his behalf in an American election. There are related questions about possible extortion.
In Democratic circles, the volume on the impeachment knob is approaching 11, but what about Republicans? It’s safe to say they’ve been quite a bit more reticent.
In fairness, the GOP hasn’t been completely silent. On Meet the Press yesterday, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) told NBC News’ Chuck Todd, “Look, it is not appropriate for any candidate for federal office, certainly, including a sitting president, to ask for assistance from a foreign country. That’s not appropriate.” The Pennsylvania Republican added in the next breath, however, “But I don’t know that that’s what happened here.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), meanwhile, suggested to the New York Times that Trump should explore some kind of disclosure of relevant materials the White House is currently hiding. “I’m hoping the president can share, in an appropriate way, information to deal with the drama around the phone call,” Graham said. “I think it would be good for the country if we could deal with it.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) appears to have gone further than any other Republican.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said in a Sunday tweet if Trump “asked or pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme.”
“Critical for the facts to come out,” he said.
To be sure, it’s notable to see a Senate Republican take such a stance publicly. But Romney’s use of the word “if” stood out for me, since the president and Rudy Giuliani have already suggested they did, in fact, push Ukraine’s president to provide dirt on one of Trump’s political rivals.
What’s more, the next question is what Romney – or any of his GOP brethren – intends to do about facts that appear to be “troubling in the extreme.”
E.J. Dionne Jr. had a good column along these lines this morning.
Even Republican politicians who know how dangerous this situation is thus prefer to stay in their bunkers and hope to survive. The GOP’s electorate is dominated by Trump’s supporters. Staying mum provides protection from opponents inside their own party — and from their own voters. And if they broke ranks, Trump’s media allies would attack them viciously.
By playing for time, these taciturn Republicans will be able to tell us once Trump is gone how they knew all along just how bad he was.
But when the greatest threat to our country is the corruption of our constitutional system, might at least some of the GOP’s leading politicians decide that there are worse things than losing a primary, or being upbraided by Fox News?
Trump will go as far as his party will allow him to go, and if recent history is any guide, congressional Republicans are generally prepared to let the president do as he pleases.
It’s likely we’ll see this latest scandal unfold in the same way. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) appeared on Fox News on Friday, conceding he doesn’t know “the actual facts,” but nevertheless telling viewers he sees the controversy as a “deep state” conspiracy.
A few hours later, The Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein added, “Every time Trump breaks a window, Republicans in Congress obediently sweep up the glass.”
The consequences of such obedience for our system of government are staggering.