Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) was asked yesterday whether she believes it's appropriate or not for a president to solicit campaign assistance from a foreign power. She wouldn't answer directly -- despite repeated journalistic efforts.
Given how embarrassing it was to see the far-right Iowan struggle through a clumsy effort at dodging a simple question, it stood to reason other Republicans would see that and realize they should probably come up with some kind of coherent answer. And yet, a reporter asked Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) this morning:
"Do you believe it's appropriate for the president of the United States to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival? Yes or no?"
Gardner -- who happens to be up for re-election in an increasingly "blue" state next year -- said a lot of words, none of which answered the question. Another reporter asked the same question, and the Colorado Republican again dodged.
The back and forth continued for a while, but Gardner simply wouldn't say whether he believes it's appropriate for a president to ask foreign officials to go after a domestic rival.
The GOP senator was, however, willing to blame House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for a "partisan partisanized effort."
It's not a trick question. One need not be a strategic genius or professional messaging consultant to figure this out.
Here, I'll help: "While it's obviously inappropriate for any American official to seek foreign assistance in a campaign, I don't believe Donald Trump's actions rise to the level of 'high crimes and misdemeanors.' If Americans disagree, they'll have a chance to decide his fate a year from now."
That's not how I personally would answer the question if I were a member of Congress, but it would at least be coherent. So why can't Republicans like Gardner and Ernst say this? Probably because they're terrified of what would happen -- in the White House, on Fox News, etc. -- if they used the words "Trump" and "inappropriate" in the same sentence.
The result is a series of cringe-worthy interviews featuring senators who know the truth, but can't quite muster the courage to say it out loud.
Other congressional Republicans should take note and prepare accordingly. Either Donald Trump can pressure foreign officials to help his political campaign or he can’t. Either GOP officials are comfortable with their president’s actions or they’re not.
Postscript: In 2016, Gardner said he couldn't possibly support the Clinton/Kaine ticket because its victory would "finalize the destruction of the rule of law." That sounds to me like a partisan partisanized answer.