As scandal revelations mount, Republicans face a test of principles

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. to the chamber to vote at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 10, 2016. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. to the chamber to vote at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 10, 2016.

Nearly two weeks ago, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) appeared on Meet the Press and NBC News' Chuck Todd asked the Republican senator about Donald Trump's Ukraine scandal. At the time, the details of the controversy were still taking shape, so Toomey seemed comfortable hedging a bit on the totality of the circumstances:

"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."But I don't know that that's what happened here."

Even at the time, this was a difficult posture to take seriously, but there was a small degree of plausibility to the Pennsylvanian's position. As of 12 days ago, when Toomey made these comments, it was hard to say with absolute certainty that Trump pressed a foreign country for campaign assistance.

That plausibility has since evaporated. We now know that's exactly "what happened here." The president went so far as to seek foreign assistance on camera yesterday from the South Lawn of the White House.

Which, naturally, leads us back to Pat Toomey, who left himself little wiggle room, telling a national television audience he wasn't comfortable with a president pressing foreign countries for campaign help. Is the GOP senator still uncomfortable now that Trump has effectively confessed? And if so, what exactly is Toomey prepared to do about it?

This isn't limited to the Pennsylvanian, of course. The day before Toomey's interview, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) published a tweet that read, "If the President 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."

Well, we can now remove the word "if" from the equation. What we don't know is what Romney is prepared to do now that it's painfully obvious that Trump did something the Utahan considers "troubling in the extreme."

To be sure, the controversy is unfolding quickly and unpredictably. It's possible that GOP officials like Toomey and Romney, among others, will face a test of political principle and act honorably.

But there's little evidence to suggest that's likely. Politico's Playbook newsletter this morning was unusually candid in its assessment of the current landscape: "Here's what we can say definitively: President Trump is bending the machinations of the U.S. government toward taking down Joe Biden. Senate and House Republicans are helping him by sticking by his side. That's not an opinion; it's a fact."

An Associated Press report added this morning, "Republican leaders are reacting in two ways to President Donald Trump's public call for another foreign government, China, to investigate his political rival: silence and support."

The president has already flunked his leadership test. His party appears eager to fail alongside him.