Why Republicans are taking aim at a war hero to defend Trump

It matters that figures like Marsha Blackburn are trying to smear a decorated American war hero. It also matters why she's engaged in such a toxic scheme.
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By Steve Benen

Fox News' Tucker Carlson and House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) went after Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman on the air last night, with the conservative host questioning his loyalties and the Republican congressman pushing for his ouster from the White House, where Vindman is the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council.

As the Washington Post noted, they weren't alone.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who along with every other senator serves as a juror in the impeachment trial, took to Twitter and impugned the patriotism of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.

Blackburn referred to an allegation that Vindman had badmouthed the United States in a conversation with Russians while serving overseas. "Adam Schiff is hailing Alexander Vindman as an American patriot," Blackburn said. "How patriotic is it to badmouth and ridicule our great nation in front of Russia, America's greatest enemy?"

First, there's very little evidence that Vindman ever badmouthed the United States, and there are plenty of reasons to believe the accusation is made-up. Second, if the far-right Tennessee senator is concerned about officials who have badmouthed the United States in reality, I'd love to introduce Marsha Blackburn to Donald Trump -- who's criticized our country in ways few American leaders ever have.

I'm also struck by Blackburn's style of needlessly toxic politics, once again questioning the patriotism of a decorated U.S. Army combat veteran who earned a Purple Heart. If she doesn't want to thank him for his honorable service, that's her business, but these ugly attempts at smearing him are unbecoming of those in positions of authority.

But as offensive as these GOP antics were, let's not lose sight of why, exactly, some Republicans seem so eager to tarnish the reputation of an American war hero who's done nothing wrong.

Those who watched yesterday's proceedings in Donald Trump's Senate impeachment trial know that House Democratic managers made extensive use of Vindman's knowledge and experiences in the White House -- and for good reason.

Vindman was on the call during Trump's July 25 phone meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky; the National Security Council expert quickly realized that the American president had gone too far and undermined U.S. national security interests; and he reported his concerns to his superiors.

In other words, a White House official had first-hand knowledge of Trump abusing his power, corroborating other witnesses' testimony.

And for the president's acolytes, that makes Vindman politically inconvenient. If that means some Republicans have to try to smear a decorated American veteran, it's a price they're willing to pay in service of Trump.

MORE: Today's Maddowblog