In the wake of the latest revelations about the president of the United States, the extent of the intellectual and moral rot of the modern Republican Party has – again – come into sharp focus. A party that once built a brand around “family values” has decided Donald Trump’s involvement in a scheme that paid off a porn star and a Playboy model to hide affairs shouldn’t be treated as criminal.
The National Review‘s Jonah Goldberg, no squishy liberal, says the party – leadership and followers – is guilty of “outsourcing our moral, our political judgment to legalisms.”
The new GOP brand: moral relativism.
South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, dismisses Trump’s involvement in felony campaign finance violations, crimes that Trump’s one-time lawyer Michael Cohen will serve jail time for, as essentially a paperwork mistake. “These guys were all new to this at the time,” the senator says and besides what’s a little hush money to quiet a scandal during a presidential campaign. “Most of us have made mistakes when it comes to campaign finance issues,” Thune says.
Or this from Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, a pillar of propriety on everything but presidential misconduct: “President Trump before he became president, that’s another world. Since he’s become president, this economy has charged ahead … And I think we ought to judge him on that basis other than trying to drum up things from the past that may or may not be true.”
You can search high and low for any Republican concern that Rex Tillerson, the former Secretary of State and CEO of Exxon, said recently: “So often the president would say, ‘Here’s what I want to do, and here’s how I want to do it’ and I would have to say to him, ‘Mr. President, I understand what you want to do, but you can’t do it that way. It violates the law.’ ”
Few Republicans have bought more heavily into the party’s moral and intellectual rot than the Idaho delegation. After a brief flurry of indignation when Trump was caught on videotape bragging about assaulting women, the get-along-go-along Idahoans have been pretty much in lockstep with Trump and they generally decline to say anything even remotely critical regarding his behavior.
Sen. Jim Risch is the worst offender.
Risch, soon to be carrying Trump’s water as the high-profile chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, couldn’t even bring himself to condemn the administration’s handling of the brutal murder of a Saudi national who was also a columnist for the Washington Post. The CIA has concluded that the Saudi crown prince ordered the murder, a position Trump refuses to accept, presumably because it would cause him to have to do something that might upset oil prices or, more likely, his own business interests.
In an interview with the editorial board of the Idaho Falls Post Register last week, Risch said that he had reached a conclusion about who was responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but that he couldn’t discuss it without revealing classified information.
That is simply an absurd statement.
Other senators in both parties have laid the responsibility directly at the feet of Mohammed bin Salman, but as the Post Register noted: “On all questions having to do with bin Salman’s direct responsibility, [Risch] deflected,” obviously in deference to Trump.
Meanwhile, as the New York Times has reported, the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been counseling his Saudi pal, the crown prince, “about how to weather the storm, urging him to resolve his conflicts around the region and avoid further embarrassments.”
Or as one wag put it: “The president’s son-in-law is giving the Saudi prince some tips on how to get away with murder.”
Trump deference – or better yet servile submissiveness – is a pattern with Risch. In the face of much evidence that North Korea’s dictator snookered Trump during talks in Singapore in June, Risch has helped maintain the fiction that Trump knows what he is doing.
Risch has backed administration policy in Yemen where the Saudis, with U.S. help, have bombed the country back to the Stone Age. By some estimates, 85,000 children may have already died in Yemen, with as many as 12 million more people on the brink of starvation.
Risch, with a seat on the Intelligence Committee, has been almost completely silent on Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign, speaking only to dismiss its importance. “Hacking is ubiquitous,” Risch said in 2017 before adding, “Russia is not, in my judgment, the most aggressive actor in this business.”
We now know that at least 14 individuals with direct or close ties to Russia, from the Russian ambassador to the lawyer who set up the infamous Trump Tower meeting during the campaign, made contact with Trump’s closest advisers, his family and friends during an 18-month period and during the campaign.
We also know that, while Trump’s story continues to shift, special counsel Robert Mueller has indicted a bus load of Russian agents and gained convictions of Trump’s campaign chairman, former national security adviser and many others. The investigation goes on, more indictments loom and Risch seems to care not at all.
When Risch made his Faustian bargain to support Trump after the notorious “Access Hollywood” tape emerged, he said he had no choice but to support the con man his party had embraced.
“Without any options other than to abandon America to the left or vote for the Republican nominee, as distasteful as that may be, I will not abandon my country,” Risch said.
In reality, by ignoring and excusing the inexcusable, he has put party loyalty above both his country and our Constitution.
Paul Waldman in the Washington Post put a fine point on this kind of moral rot when he wrote recently of Trump: “Once he’s no longer president – perhaps in 2021, or perhaps even sooner – everyone who worked for him, supported him or stood by him is going to be in an extremely uncomfortable position.”
Johnson served as press secretary and chief of staff to the late former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus. He lives in Manzanita, Ore.