Going Down With Trump

Note to Republicans: You get no credit if you abandon President Donald Trump after the cell door slams shut.

Court filings Friday implicated the president in felonies. If all of Trump’s amoral and immoral actions — not to mention his lies, crassness, meanness, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and autocratic tendencies — did not force Republicans to reconsider their commitment to him, a serious and credible accusation of felonious behavior should.

In a court filing last Friday in New York City, federal prosecutors said the president directed illegal payments to prevent a potential sex scandal from jeopardizing his chances to win the presidency in 2016. The filing means the Justice Department believes the accusations previously made by Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer. In a separate filing in Washington, prosecutors from the special counsel’s office said an unnamed Russian offered Cohen “governmental level” cooperation between Russia and the Trump campaign at a time when Trump was interested in building a hotel in Moscow. 

If Trump were a private citizen, he likely would be facing an indictment in the near future. Only the Justice Department’s squeamishness over indicting a sitting president keeps Trump out of legal jeopardy — for the time being. (Prosecutors in New York believe Trump could be indicted on campaign finance violations if he is not re-elected.) But, he can be investigated and/or impeached by Congress, and the incoming Democratic majority in the House is poised to use its powers to look into Trump’s wrongdoing.

Most Republicans remained quiet after President Trump deferred to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

Almost all Republicans acquiesced silently as Trump coddled dictators, lied shamelessly, pulled out of trade pacts GOP leaders had previously supported, levied tariffs that hurt their constituents, separated immigrant families at the border, trashed the federal judiciary, and made light of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi (this is a very partial list). There have been, from time to time, murmurs of discontent, but no real challenges to the president as putative leader of the Republican Party. Most of the GOP has fallen into line, accepting presidential misdeeds while supporting an agenda often at odds with traditional conservative policy.

Now that the president’s legal jeopardy is clearer than ever, Republicans have to decide whether to go down with the sinking ship — for it is going down — or save whatever remains of their tattered reputations. Doing the latter risks short-term retribution from the ever-loyal Trump base. Doing the former risks the condemnation of history.

Arizona Republican Senator Barry Goldwater, in the middle, led a congressional delegation to inform President Richard Nixon that Congress would vote to impeach and convict him.

When Republican leaders informed Richard Nixon he lacked the votes in a Senate trial following his likely impeachment, the president resigned. For two years, most Republicans stood by Nixon as the Watergate scandal crept closer to him and the inner White House circle. But, after the evidence became incontrovertible in the form of the White House tapes, Senator Barry Goldwater, the Arizona conservative, led a delegation of Republican congressional leaders to the White House to tell Nixon he was finished. 

There are signs that some Republicans are rethinking their loyalty to a president who never returns it in kind. Indications of economic distress — tariffs and trade wars hurting constituents and a tumbling stock market — coupled with the administration’s defense of Saudi Arabia for its complicity in the Khashoggi assassination make it easier for Republicans to separate themselves from Trump. Chaos within the White House following the ineptly handled announcement of John Kelly’s departure as chief of staff and the refusal of the heir-apparent, Nick Ayres, to take the job also worries some savvier Republicans. The latest legal maneuverings suggesting Trump’s complicity in criminal behavior only heighten GOP anxiety.

Robert Costa and Philip Rucker reported in The Washington Post over the weekend that many Republicans fear the White House has no plan to deal with the intensifying Russia investigation, which creeps closer and closer to Trump. Eventually, the probe will consume the party if it continues to tie its future to a president facing legal jeopardy. Trump’s unwillingness to listen to legal and political advice and his penchant for incriminating tweets contribute to Republican fears. Trump, after all, believes he is the smartest person in the room — in this case, the room is the world — and is convinced he can outsmart adversaries and weather any storms. Most of Washington, regardless of party, knows better.

Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal

For now, congressional Republicans appear inclined to stand by Trump. But, one pro-Trump senator says Trump has “lost me” if the special counsel documents a conspiracy with Russians. Others might bolt if the president were to pardon Paul Manafort, Trump’s one-time campaign manager who has been convicted of tax and bank fraud and faces other charges, including lying to the special counsel. Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, a vocal Trump critic and frequent butt of Trumpian bullying, says, “The president’s situation is fraught with mounting peril and that’s apparent to everyone who’s paying any attention, which is all of my Republican colleagues.” 

Trump reportedly believes ultra-right supporters on Capitol Hill — such as Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Jim Jordan of Ohio, and the comically foolish Devin Nunes of California — will stick by him. That may not be enough as more indictments come from the various investigations that are getting closer and closer to Trump. It is time for the rest of the Republican Party to decide on its course of action.

Trump sullies the good names of everyone with whom he comes into contact. This is most obviously true of those who have worked for him in the White House, but it is also the case for the Republican Party. Prominent Republicans — congressional leaders, governors, and other party leaders — will have to answer to history for their silence in the face of a president who undermines the rule of law both nationally and internationally.

Once the cell door shuts — and Trump, metaphorically, is dressed in orange — it will be too late.

Posted December 11, 2018

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