Every time it seems as though the firewall of apologists protecting Donald Trump might crumble, Republican politicians let us down over and over. In an interview Sunday, one of Trump’s top Republican allies, Sen. Lindsey Graham, was asked in an interview whether he was open-minded about supporting impeachment if damning evidence of Trump’s wrongdoing was to emerge. Graham said, “If you could show me that, you know, Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing.”
But just two days later, the high-ranking senator stood by Trump as the president used the most vile language in reference to his impeachment, saying on Twitter, “All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here — a lynching.” In response, Graham said to reporters, “This is a lynching, in every sense.” He did not say, “This is a symbolic lynching,” or “In some sense, this is a lynching.” (Even those terms would have been unacceptable given the history of quintessentially American racist terror the word references). But Graham said, “in every sense,” this was a lynching of President Trump, implying that even in literal terms, Trump was, in his view, being strung up on a tree by a racist mob and murdered by hanging. Just as other high-ranking Republicans have done in the past, Graham went even further than Trump himself to defend him and his conduct. Are not all of Trump’s supporters as guilty of the president’s wrongdoing as he is?
There has been a mass exodus by Republicans from office and even the party the past two years, strongly suggesting that Trump’s politics are too much for party members to tolerate. Among the earliest was the ambitious Republican star and former House Speaker Paul Ryan, who criticized Trump and then chose to retire, saying, “We’re making really good progress on a lot of signature issues” — as if Trump’s destructiveness were a small price to pay for Ryan’s chief economic concerns such as lowering taxes for the wealthy. Other high-profile lawmakers followed, including Sen. Bob Corker, who had been openly critical of Trump but then retired without speaking out. Sen. Jeff Flake also spoke up loudly against Trump but also chose to retire. House Republican Justin Amash became the first GOP congressman to say that Trump had met the standard for impeachment. He did so in May, before Democrats launched their formal impeachment inquiry — and then made a bold stand by actually leaving the party. Sen. Mitt Romney is the highest-ranking Republican senator who remains in the party and who has spoken out strongly against Trump. According to Axios, Romney explained in an interview that “conservatives are trying to maintain the perception of a united front to voters so as not to risk internal shakeups that could lose them the Senate or Oval Office.”
And there you have it. Fear of losing political gains has kept that Republican firewall around Trump strong regardless of what party members think of the president in private. The real reason Trump continues to be tolerated by his fellow Republicans is because he is delivering on the kind of economic reforms they are counting on. They see the rising tide of anti-capitalist populism in the country as Americans are fed up with the rich getting richer. They see the very real prospects of a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren presidential election in 2020. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell knows that backing Trump unequivocally has given conservatives the chance to install two out of nine Supreme Court justices and win long-term right-wing influence in the nation’s highest court. He understands that lowering corporate tax rates is worth the price of keeping Trump in the White House. While Trump is destroying the Republican Party, the Republican Party is destroying America.
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Several people have asserted that if an impeachment trial were held in the Senate in secret, a large percentage of Republicans would vote to remove the president. Flake estimated that 35 would do so, while an unnamed Republican politician told Fox News’ Chris Wallace that there was a 20% chance of the GOP voting to end Trump’s presidency. But Republicans ought to have the courage to voice their opposition in public. Trump thrives on an impression of compliance and loyalty. He may suspect that Republicans are secretly turning against him, but if that resistance to him remains secret, it matters little. All he cares about is the perception of obedience and the view that he is winning no matter what e does.
One group, Republicans for the Rule of Law, has been working hard to expose Trump and encourage the GOP to take him on. They have operated openly without hiding who they are and are now calling on Romney to “pry the Republican Party from President Trump’s hands.” While their efforts are admirable, it remains to be seen if Republicans who are disgusted with Trump will take its advice.
With the testimony of the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor confirming that Trump engaged in a quid pro quo to exact political dirt from Ukraine in exchange for military aid, one might imagine that Sen. Graham would stay true to his claim that he might consider impeachment if such a thing could be proved. But Graham, like McConnell and others, appears to have made the cold calculation that a guilty Republican in the White House is better than any Democrat.
Trump got into office because Republicans allowed it, and he remains in office because Republicans continue to allow it. Until they openly declare war on his presidency, his ongoing assault on our democracy is just as much their fault as his. He remains in office at their whim. They are his enablers, the facilitators of his evil. The stink of Trump’s racist and misogynist hate, abject dishonesty and flagrant impunity over laws and the U.S. Constitution ought to follow every Trump supporter inside or outside government for the rest of their lives. The only way to save their soul from the complicity that history books will surely capture is to disavow him, and to do so now when it matters.