Elected Republicans, at least those not swamped by conspiracy theories about stolen elections or Hunter Biden’s laptop, find themselves in a really awkward place. It’s not really a new place, but it is a newly urgent place.
Day by day these Republicans watch as a legal dragnet closes around the leader of their party. What do they do?
Do they lash out at the FBI as the party leader wants them to? Some have done just that. The party that has owned the “law and order” issue since Richard Nixon – another crook who thought himself above the law – was in the White House now has members trashing the integrity of federal law enforcement officers.
Do they join in, as South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham has, to summon another mob on the notion that a former president could actually be charged with crimes by the American judicial system?
The party leader is sending decidedly mixed messages. The documents recovered from his closet and office were planted. No, that’s not it, the papers are genuine, but he declassified them. No, on second thought they were his private property, and a federal judge had no business allowing the government he once headed to recover them. No, check that, a special master should review those documents. And the nation’s premier law enforcement agency was corrupt and out to get him.
This guy has had more explanations than a sixth grader caught red handed with a fist in mom’s cookie jar.
Do these Republicans just look away from this national security and potentially violent train wreck?
Some, like Idaho Senator Jim Risch, a senior member of both the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committee, seem to be doing just that. These profiles in courage have gone silent. They got nothing for us – no defense of the rule of law, no support for the fact that presidential records, particularly top-secret records, are not legally permitted in a Florida resort no matter who lives there, no word about trashing a federal judge and disparaging individual FBI agents is, well, not a very conservative thing to do.
These silent ones can’t even claim the dog ate their civics homework. What homework? Risch loves to tell his constituents he was once a prosecutor and knows a crook when he sees one, but not now. Risch routinely touts his Intelligence committee and foreign policy bona fides, but in the present case he’s the political equivalent of old, bumbling Sargant Schultz of Hogan’s Heroes fame. He see “nothing, nothing.”
When the leader of their party spouts absolutely ridiculous stuff, as the man did repeatedly this week, including a whole long list of Q-Anon nonsense, you might think it would be time for an intervention. Something like: Check up on the old boy, something is sadly amiss here. But when you allow the party brand to devolve into crazy conspiracy at the hand of a serial liar what are you gonna do? Speak out about it? Nah.
As journalist Bess Levin pointed out recently, “Even before the FBI came a-knocking, the 45th president was up to his neck in legal woes,” including, by Levin’s count, 17 different criminal and civil cases ranging from the party leader’s role in the January 6 insurrection, to the corruption of his family business, to credible allegations of sexual abuse.
This guy is Tony Soprano without the charm, and he will spend the rest of his natural life in and out of depositions, investigations, lawsuits and, as increasingly seems clear, indictments and trials.
But back to the Republican’s dilemma. On the one hand they know all this attention centered on a guy who twice lost the popular vote, was twice impeached and whose actions have shaken the quivering footings of American democracy is an enormous distraction, particularly heading into a midterm election.
On the other hand, they’re stuck with him. After excusing his lack of character and honesty, after shrugging off his misogyny and racism, after cringing, but still tolerating his coziness with Putin and other assorted thugs and low lives, they’re afraid to cross him. Cutting bait now means crossing his most deranged followers, and that is very dangerous politically and even personally.
And they know it will get worse. Congress will soon return, and the January 6 committee will deliver more revelations. A plucky prosecutor in Atlanta is systematically building a case that a criminal conspiracy attempted to interfere with the presidential election in Georgia. The family business is under extreme pressure. Despite the fulminations and lying and constantly shifting storyline, the government documents case, which has become an obstruction of justice and false statements case is solid and will play out in ways that will almost certainly be detrimental to the party and its leader.
Even a frequent apologist for the former president like National Review columnist Andrew C. McCarthy sees where this is going. “I believe former president Trump is likely to be charged with obstruction of justice and causing false statements to be made to investigators,” McCarthy wrote this week. And he added: “It does not appear that those charges would be difficult to prove.”
So, these awkward place Republicans have squandered the high ground around “law and order” by enabling a guy in so much legal trouble he can’t find competent counsel to represent him. The tough, no nonsense foreign policy realists in the party have allowed their movement to be coopted by delusional fan boy adulation for the white nationalist president of, wait for it, Hungary.
And the MAGA movement is led by a guy, as The Atlantic’s Tom Nichols describes him, that is “one of the weakest and most cowardly men ever to serve as president,” a “leader” lacking the backbone – not to mention the judgment – to stand up for his country rather than bowing down to a former KGB hack.
Having let him off once for inciting an insurrection, these awkward place Republicans know from personal experience what their leader is capable of. He’s really cornered now, and the stakes are a lot higher than losing an election and lying about it.
Joe Biden, demonized as a socialist, a Marxist, a creepy old left wing radical (among the nicer things said about him), caught some grief recently for describing the other party as “semi-fascist.”
He’s not wrong, and we’re closer every day to seeing just how far the awkward Republicans will go to keep from confronting the monster that grew and grew while they wrung their hands, turned their backs and worried about their jobs.
What will they do? What will we do?