Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calf.) has struggled in embarrassing ways throughout Donald Trump's presidency. The California Republican, a little desperate to play the role of presidential sycophant, has effectively lit his reputation on fire, becoming more of a partisan joke and less of a congressman.
His infamous "Nunes Memo," for example, ended up backfiring. His lawsuit against a pseudonymous internet cow was a debacle. He's faced an ethics investigation, and has been caught up in other ethics controversies. Even some of the GOP lawmaker's far-right allies came to believe Nunes worked principally as lackey for the White House, not his constituents.
But while it's been tempting to feel sorry for the increasingly pitiful politician, today the California Republican received his reward for four years of service to Trump.
President Donald Trump on Monday awarded the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a staunch Trump ally and protector, lauding the "personal risk" the congressman took on in fighting the Russia investigation, a further indication of the length to which the president will go to praise loyalty.
The White House's written statement explaining why Nunes is receiving the nation's highest civilian honor is unintentionally amusing: it argues that the Republican congressman earned the medal because he uncovered evidence of the Obama administration spying on the Trump campaign (that didn't happen in reality), found proof of "illegitimate" unmaskings (that also didn't happen in reality), "thwarted" a plot to take down an American president (this is utterly bananas), proved something nefarious about the "persecution" of disgraced former White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (who wasn't persecuted), "pursued" the "Russia Hoax" (which obviously wasn't a hoax), and "uncovered the greatest scandal in American history," which the document didn't actually identify.
Perhaps most importantly, the president's statement added that Nunes deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom because the Republican lawmaker "had the fortitude to take on the media, the FBI, the Intelligence Community, the Democrat Party, foreign spies, and the full power of the Deep State."
Or put another way, Trump is celebrating Nunes for "taking on" his own country's governmental institutions that Trump ostensibly helps lead.
The only meaningful difference between this White House's statement and Trump's Twitter feed is that the statement featured fewer exclamation points and proper capitalization.
Complicating matters, of course, is the eagerness with which the president is tarnishing the nation's highest civilian honor. A few years ago -- after the president awarded the Medal of Freedom to the wife of a Republican megadonor -- a Washington Post analysis highlighted "a growing pattern: one of Trump awarding a large majority of such medals ... to supporters, to Republicans, and to recipients who fit his political agenda."
The pattern hasn't changed. Trump has now honored 18 people with the award, most of whom are politically aligned with the president. Updating our earlier coverage, the list includes:
- Antonin Scalia, the late conservative Supreme Court justice
- Miriam Adelson, the wife a Republican megadonor
- Orrin Hatch, a former Republican senator
- Roger Staubach, an athlete and longtime conservative Republican
- Arthur Laffer, a derided Republican economist
- Edwin Meese, a highly controversial former Republican attorney general
- Mariano Rivera, an athlete and Trump supporter
- Roger Penske, a businessman and Republican donor
- Rush Limbaugh, a far-right media personality
- Jim Ryun, a former Republican congressman
- Lou Holtz, a former coach and longtime Republican who was chosen for the honor after attacking Joe Biden's faith at the Republican National Convention
- Dan Gable, an Olympic gold medalist who campaigned with Trump in Iowa
In case this isn't obvious, this honor hasn't traditionally been politicized, and presidents haven't traditionally seen it as a reward for political allies.
But for Trump, the medal is a party favor for those who've advanced his political interests.