Tag Archives: Mitt Romney

Baby Steps

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

I may be a cock-eyed optimist, but I think I discern tentative steps — baby steps — indicating cracks in the facade of right-wing Republican extremism and subservience to former president Donald Trump. Two recent events indicate that some semblance of common sense may be appearing within Republican ranks. I stress the may be, but the votes of 17 Republican senators to take up a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill and the results in Tuesday’s special election in Texas seem to indicate a return to levelheadedness in a party that has gone off the rails in the last several years.

The infrastructure bill has not yet been drafted, but the 67-32 vote in the Senate to move the package forward and begin debate came hours after a centrist bipartisan group of senators reached a compromise on the proposal to provide federal money for roads, bridges, rails, water, and other physical infrastructure programs as well as funding expansion of broadband to rural areas of the nation. Just last week, Senate Republicans blocked consideration of a similar infrastructure bill. 

Updating the nation’s outmoded and decaying infrastructure always promised to be the most likely part of President Joe Biden’s ambitious legislative plans to win bipartisan support. Everyone — on both sides of the political divide — believes the nation’s infrastructure is in serious disrepair, and fixing bridges and roads has wide public support. Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — who previously boasted that he was “100 percent” focused on torpedoing Biden’s agenda — voted to begin debate. 

McConnell and the rest of the GOP are in a tough spot on infrastructure. Passing the bill would, of course, give Biden a major victory, but, on the other hand, filibustering a very popular measure would give Democrats a significant campaign issue in 2022. No Republican up for reelection next year wants to have to explain to constituents why he or she voted against repairing a local crumbling bridge or pothole-filled road. 

But here is what is most interesting about the votes of a third of the Republican Senate conference: They were cast in defiance of the wishes of former president Donald Trump, who urged GOP members to wait until after the 2022 midterm elections, when Republicans presumably would control Congress, before considering an infrastructure bill. It was something of a running joke that, as president, Trump repeatedly promised to have an “infrastructure week,” but no legislation was ever introduced. After Wednesday’s vote to allow debate on infrastructure, Trump lashed out at the minority leader: “Under the weak leadership of Mitch McConnell, Senate Republicans continue to lose.” The former president particularly savaged Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney: “Hard to believe our Senate Republicans are dealing with the Radical Left Democrats in making a so-called bipartisan bill on ‘infrastructure,’ with our negotiators headed up by SUPER RINO [Republican in name only] Mitt Romney.” 

It is difficult to know if the sudden courage of Senate Republicans to challenge the party’s cult leader owes anything to the surprising results in the Texas special election to fill the post of Representative Ron Wright, who died in February. Trump backed Susan Wright, the former representative’s widow, but she lost by six points to Jake Ellzey, a member of the Texas state legislature, in a runoff between two Republicans after no one secured a majority in the first round of voting in May. It is, of course, possible that Democrats in the suburban Dallas-Fort Worth district voted for Ellzey to rebuff Trump, but regardless of the vote breakdown, the results are an embarrassment to the former president and bring into question the clout he wields among Republican voters. 

Trump’s influence among Republicans will be put to the test in next week’s primary in Ohio, where a number of Republicans are vying to replace former Representative Steve Stivers. Trump is backing Mike Carey, a former energy lobbyist running for the Columbus-area open seat. But, several Trump allies favor rivals. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is supporting Ron Hood in the primary, and Debbie Meadows, the wife of former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, is promoting Ruth Edmonds.

Trump world views these interventions as acts of disloyalty, though both Paul and Meadows say they simply are backing rival candidates. Paul claims he favors a fellow libertarian, while Meadows had endorsed Edmonds, who is Black, arguing she “will be a powerful voice in Congress countering the growing BLM/Marxist movement” and whose “life experiences” as a Christian “have uniquely prepared her to stand up against the race-baiting bullies of the radical Left.” Whatever the motives of Paul and Meadows, Trump allies say their apostasy “will be remembered.”

Republican baby steps toward acting like a normal political party could easily lead nowhere. The infrastructure bill has yet to be drafted and many in both political parties are not pleased with the scope of the bill and the manner in which it will be funded. Republicans may be up to their usual shenanigans, stringing along negotiations until the clock finally runs out with no deal at all. Progressive Democrats are not happy with the framework for the bipartisan deal, and they desperately want to get a much more expensive companion bill dealing with “human infrastructure,” such as combating climate change and expanding Medicare, passed as well. That bill would have to become law without any Republican votes, requiring several hesitant moderate Democratic senators to support it. 

Republican voters may choose the Trump-backed candidate in next week’s Ohio primary. A victory for Carey would reinforce the view that Trump is a kingmaker in Republican primaries, forcing Republicans to shy away from working with Democrats and discouraging any shows of independence from the emperor of Mar-a-Lago. Nothing scares a Republican running for reelection more than the possibility of a primary challenge from the right. 

Still, the infrastructure deal and the Texas election results give reason to hope that at least some Republicans are beginning to return to some semblance of normal. Not all, of course, as Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, and their ilk are still around. But, a healthy two-party system in which thoughtful political leaders can reach viable compromises is essential for the stability of the American body politic. For that reason alone, we should all applaud the recent developments. 

Posted July 30, 2021

QAnon and the New McCarthyism

mccarthyism (the kevin variant) n. 1. the behavior of a craven, amoral politician eager to advance his or her political career at the expense of the security and safety of the nation. 

2. The antithesis of patriotism.


“I think it would be helpful if you could hear exactly what she told all of us — denouncing Q-on, I don’t know if I say it right, I don’t even know what it is,” House Minority Leader  Kevin McCarthy (Q-Calif.) said after he defended the bigoted, conspiracy theorist freshman Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (Q-Ga.) for her heinous remarks and actions. His defense is a classic example of the new McCarthyism.

Nice try, Representative McCarthy, but pulling the old Trumpian dodge — “I know nothing about QAnon” — will not get you off the hook. Here is the problem with that formulation, Mr. Minority Leader: The rest of us know enough about QAnon and its loony conspiracies to condemn it. And, here is another problem, Mr. Craven Politician: You are on tape, on FOX News last August, condemning QAnon. “Let me be very clear: There is no place for QAnon in the Republican Party. I do not support it,” you said then. I know you do not have a reputation as the sharpest knife in the drawer, but surely, Mr. McCarthy, your memory is better than that. But, selective amnesia is a part of the new McCarthyism.

Of course, the gyrations of the Republican House leader on Greene reflect the state of today’s Republican Party. There may have been no place for QAnon in the Republican Party six months ago, but, today, McCarthy and the bulk of the Republican House caucus are more than willing to carve out a spot for her, with some members giving her a standing ovation at a contentious meeting Wednesday night. Think about that: Republicans in the House gave a standing ovation to a colleague who wants Speaker Nancy Pelosi assassinated. The reasons are simple: Greene mirrors the views of millions of voters to whom the party appeals, and she is close to former president Donald Trump. Greene may hold idiotic notions, but she is savvy enough to know when to invoke Trump’s name, which she did last weekend as the furor over her intensified. “I had a great call with my all time favorite POTUS, President Trump! I’m so grateful for his support,” the QAnon lawmaker tweeted. 

It is hard to see this McCarthyist cowardice as a winning strategy. Republican loyalty to Trump led to the party losing the White House, the House, and the Senate after controlling all three in 2017. Sure, a public vote to remove Greene from her committee assignments might result in a primary challenge against a member from someone even further out in la-la land, but what is the value in staving off a primary challenge only to lose in the general election?

Actually, many Senate Republicans understand the danger of hooking the party to QAnon. “Loony lies and conspiracy theories are cancer for the Republican Party and the country,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The second-ranking Republican in the Senate, John Thune of South Dakota, asked whether Republicans “want to be the party of limited government… or do they want to be the party of conspiracy theories and QAnon? (The Senator might want to withdraw the question as he might not want to hear the answer.) Utah Senator Mitt Romney said, “Our big tent is not large enough to both accommodate conservatives and kooks.” 

Many Senate Republicans know Greene spells disaster for the Republican Party. Already, the Democratic Party is running an advertising campaign making Greene the face of the GOP. But, Senate Republican condemnation of Greene rings hollow given the party’s past tolerance of Trump’s lies and embrace of conspiracy theories. Remember, Trump came to political prominence pushing “birtherism.” Along the way, he claimed Senator Ted Cruz’s father helped assassinate John Kennedy; Barack Obama founded the Islamic State; TV anchor Joe Scarborough, when a congressman, murdered one of his staffers, and many more “looney lies.” Trump’s penchant for conspiracy theories culminated in the big lie of a stolen election in 2020 that led to the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

The dynamic in the House is different. Republicans in the lower chamber refused to take any action against Greene, settling, instead, for a tortured McCarthyist statement from their leader in which McCarthy said Greene’s “past comments now have much greater meaning. Marjorie recognized this in our conversation. I hold her to her word, as well as her actions going forward” before pivoting to attacking the Democrats for wanting to more effectively rebuke the Georgia representative. House Republicans assume a racist, anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist who has not apologized for any of her assaults on decency will behave decorously in the future. Good luck with that!

Republicans also took up the future of Representative Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the third-ranking House Republican. Cheney, a consistent conservative, ran afoul of the Trumpistas in the party for voting to impeach Trump for instigating the Capitol riot. Cheney survived by a vote of 145 to 61, but only, one suspects, because the vote was secret. On the open vote Thursday on removing Greene from House committees, only 11 Republicans voted in the affirmative. The vast majority of Republicans were unmoved by the emotional appeal of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer who displayed a picture of Greene posing with an assault rifle juxtaposed with photos of three progressive Democratic congresswomen of color above a caption, “The Squad’s Worst Nightmare.” “When you take this vote, imagine your faces on this poster,” Hoyer said to his Republican colleagues. “Imagine it’s a Democrat with an AR-15. Imagine what your response would be.”

The cowardice of the new McCarthyism is unfathomable. Just two years ago, McCarthy stripped Iowa Representative Steve King of his committee appointments because of his history of white supremacist remarks. Odious as King’s racism was, it seems tame compared to the egregious behavior of Marjorie Taylor Greene. But, according to the new McCarthyism, it is acceptable for members of the United States House of Representatives to threaten other members on the other side of the aisle with assault rifles.

Fortunately, at least for now, the Democrats have a majority in the House.

Posted February 5, 2021

The Republican Party is a Terrorist Organization

The Republican Party is a terrorist organization, unwilling, apparently, to convict a known terrorist for inciting insurrection, unwilling, evidently, to purge terrorists within its ranks, and, unwilling, ostensibly, to condemn the lies that aid and abet terrorism. It pains me to conclude that one of our nation’s two major political parties is a terrorist organization, but facts are facts. 

The Senate vote Tuesday on the constitutionality of proceeding with the trial of former president Donald Trump signals that the proceedings likely will end with Trump’s acquittal on the charge of inciting the January 6 riot at the Capitol. The evidence against Trump is overwhelming, and more emerges almost daily. His constant lies about electoral fraud and his tweets urging his followers to come to Washington to contest the certification of electors along with his speech just prior to the mob storming the Capitol prove his culpability. But, 45 of the 50 Republican Senators agreed with Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, that there is no constitutional basis for trying a former president.

Most constitutional scholars disagree, and precedents exist for the impeachment and trial of officials who no longer hold office. Democrats believe a trial is justified, arguing that Trump must be held accountable for his role in the riot. Conviction also can be followed by a vote to bar Trump from ever holding office again. 

By raising a bogus constitutional issue, Republicans have given themselves a public relations out for voting to acquit. They can get credit among hard-core Trumpistas for not voting against their cult hero, while saying to more moderate Republicans that they merely acted on constitutional grounds without assessing Trump’s guilt. As a political dodge, the argument on constitutionality may work; from a moral perspective, any vote to acquit puts the Republican Party on the side of terrorists. Historical accountability will be severe for the GOP.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has played his usual duplicitous role in the run up to the Senate trial. After the January 6 riot, McConnell announced that Trump had “provoked” the mob, suggesting he favored impeachment. But, in the week after the House impeached Trump on January 13, while he was still majority leader, McConnell refused to reconvene the Senate, guaranteeing that the trial would occur after Trump left office and paving the way for Paul’s cynical constitutional gambit.

I suppose it is conceivable for a senator to vote against the constitutionality of a trial and then turn around and vote to convict Trump. A public official may have constitutional qualms about an issue, but once the question of constitutionality is resolved by the appropriate authority, that official must do his duty according to the law. Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman, who is not running for reelection in 2022, but still voted with the majority of Republicans against going to trial, says, “But I’ve not made me mind up, I’m a juror.” But, it is going to be a heavy lift for Democrats to persuade at least 17 Republicans to vote for convicting Trump.

Republicans condoning terrorism goes beyond the Senate vote. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who said Trump “bears responsibility” for the attack on the Capitol, traveled to Florida Thursday to grovel before Trump in an attempt to mend relations. It may be one thing for Republicans in the Senate to vote to acquit on the spurious argument that a trial of a former president is divisive, but it is quite another to actually cozy up to Trump-the-terrorist. Apparently, congressional Republicans believe placating Trump is the key to winning elections. “We cannot take the House and the Senate back without his help. That’s just a fact,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina. Of course, with Trump in the White House, Republicans lost the House in 2018, and with Trump at the head of the ticket, Republicans lost the presidency and the Senate in 2020. That is a whole lot of help, Senator!

McCarthy seems amenable to rewarding terrorists. He placed Representative Majorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who identifies with the QAnon cult and refers to deadly school shootings as “false-flag” operations by gun-control advocates, on the House Education and Labor Committee. Greene should be condemned, not rewarded, by the House GOP leadership for liking a comment on her Facebook page saying “a bullet to the head would be quicker” in removing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Greene also liked comments about executing FBI agents, who she believes are part of the “deep state” working against Trump. Urging the assassination of the speaker and the execution of agents of the federal government are terrorist acts. Greene should be removed from all House posts, and Republicans should purge her from the party. Action should be taken against other terrorists within Republican ranks, such as Alabama Representative Mo Brooks, who said, at the rally before the storming of the Capitol, that January 6 was the day “American patriots start… kicking ass.” Similarly, some form of punishment is warranted for those members of Congress who encouraged and may have aided the mob.

Republicans have been complicit spreading lies that fuel terrorist acts. House and Senate Republicans did Trump’s bidding by lying about electoral fraud. Eight Republican senators and two-thirds of the Republican House caucus voted to overturn the election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania after the riot that endangered them. All but 10 Republicans voted against impeaching Trump, despite evidence that his actions put their lives at risk on January 6. 

Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney harshly condemned his colleagues for failing to disown the lies about electoral fraud. “I say, first of all, have you gone out publicly and said that there was not widespread voter fraud that Joe Biden is the legitimate president of the United States?” the former presidential candidate asked. “If you said that, then I’m happy to listen to you talk about other things that might inflame anger and divisiveness.” But, Romney asserts, do not claim a trial or condemnation of terrorists within the Republican Party is divisive, while continuing to spread lies.

Republicans must hold Trump accountable for his role in the terrorist attack on the our nation’s Capitol, condemn the terrorists in their ranks, and repudiate their own lies about the election. Failure to do so brands the Republican Party as a terrorist organization.

Posted January 29, 2021

Trump Does Not Care About America

The most basic duty of government is to defend the lives of its citizens. Any government that fails to do so is a government unworthy to lead. — Donald Trump, speech in Cleveland, Ohio, July 21, 2016, accepting the Republican nomination for president.

You know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country. You can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump. — Representative Adam Schiff, California Democrat, January 23, 2020, the House impeachment manager, laying out the case in the Senate for the conviction of Donald Trump.

Everyone agrees that the most basic function of government is to keep its citizens safe. Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals may not see eye-to-eye on much in modern American politics, but there is universal acceptance of the principle articulated by presidential candidate Donald Trump: Government’s primary function is to protect its citizens.

Unfortunately, Trump as president has failed to accept the dictum of candidate Trump and is proving Representative Adam Schiff right. Time and again, Trump has put his interests first and shown his disdain for the safety of his constituents, the American people. He dawdled when coronavirus first appeared. Then, he downplayed its severity, promising it would go away when the weather warmed up or magically disappear. He refused to consistently use his bully pulpit to model appropriate behavior — mask wearing, social distancing, no large gatherings — that experts say would limit the contagion. His government’s one success — facilitating the rapid development of vaccines — has been undermined by a failure to devise a comprehensive plan for getting the vaccines into the arms of Americans. Apparently, Trump would rather leave this problem (among many others) for the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden. 

Never much interested in doing the hard work to stem the pandemic — or doing much hard work, period, or any work, for that matter — the president appears to have given up fighting the virus. “I think he’s just done with COVID,” The Washington Post quotes one of Trump’s advisers. Unfortunately, COVID is not done with us, as the current surge in the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths indicates. Trump is so divorced from the every day workings of government that his administration has not even prepared Public Service Announcements touting the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines. As a result, the nation faces the risk that a large percentage of people will not get the requisite shots, thereby jeopardizing the efficacy of the vaccines.

The pandemic is not the only danger facing the country in the waning days of the Trump administration. A massive hack has affected many critical departments of the federal government and thousands of businesses. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency — part of the Department of Homeland Security — labels the attack a “grave threat.” Full knowledge of the scale of the invasion is not yet available, but clearly it is serious, and all the experts agree Russia is the perpetrator. Even Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “Russians engaged in this activity.” But, Trump, demonstrating his subservience to Russian President Vladimir Putin, tweeted, “The Cyber Hack is far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality. I have been fully briefed and everything is well under control. Russia, Russia, Russia is the priority chant when anything happens….” Instead, Trump blamed China, though there is no evidence to support his contention. 

Trump has never shown any inclination to protect America from Russian aggression. He refused to acknowledge Russian interference in the 2016 election for fear it would diminish and delegitimize the significance of his victory. In Helsinki in 2018, Trump said he believed Putin’s denials of that interference while rejecting the intelligence gathered by American security agencies. Trump remained silent when credible reports surfaced that the Russian military was offering bounties for the killing of American soldiers in Afghanistan. And, now, he downplays the significance of the Russian hack. 

Trump apparently does not have time to combat the pandemic or defend the nation from Russian cyber aggression. Nor, evidently, has he had the time to push Congress to pass a stimulus bill to jumpstart an economy ravaged by the coronavirus, leaving it entirely to Congress to pass, finally, a measure at the end of his administration. Instead, Trump is far too busy doing really important business: Attempting to overthrow American democracy in a vain endeavor to cling to power. Trump could genuinely celebrate the first good news the nation has had in almost a year: The development of the vaccines. Trump could leave office on a high note, touting his role in the speedy development of vaccines and insuring their rapid distribution. Most presidents would do that, but not Trump. He would rather stew in the White House, nurse his grievances, tweet insults at Republicans who are not helping him overturn the election results, and plot his next steps.

It gets worse. Not only is Trump not protecting the nation, he now is engaged actively in attempting to subvert the Constitution and undermine American democracy. The New York Times reports Trump is considering appointing the crackpot conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell as special counsel, which he does not have the authority to do, to investigate voter fraud that exists only in his mind (and hers, and a few other minds). Then, as if that were not scary enough, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, a convicted felon pardoned by Trump, has floated the notion that President Trump should impose martial law and deploy the military to “rerun” the election in several closely contested states that voted against Trump. (The president denied any intent to impose martial law.) Apparently, Flynn wants to turn figurative battleground states into literal battleground states.

Flynn’s martial law will not happen. The top civilian and military heads of the Army issued a statement late last week saying there “is no role for the U.S. military in determining the outcome of an American election.” Their disavowal of a military role in politics is in keeping with the long-standing tradition of the U.S. armed forces, but it is truly alarming that they felt the need to even state the obvious. As Jonathan Swan of Axios tweeted, “I’ve been covering Donald Trump for a while. I can’t recall hearing more intense concern from senior officials who are actually Trump people. The Sidney Powell/Michael Flynn ideas are finding an enthusiastic audience at the top.”

As Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney said Sunday, “The president could right now be writing the last chapter of this administration with a victory lap with regards to the vaccine.” Instead, Romney said, “He’s leaving Washington with a whole series of conspiracy theories and things that are so nutty and loopy that people are shaking their head [sic] wondering what in the world has gotten into this man.”

Romney is mostly right, but too kind. Trump has always demonstrated a penchant for conspiracies and has never shown a commitment to the preservation of American democracy. In the twilight of his presidency, facing a return to private life, Trump is yielding to his basest instincts and plotting the overthrow of our constitutional system of government. Not only is he failing at the basic function of government, protecting the American people, now Trump is engaged in actively threatening out traditions and practices.

As Adam Schiff said, “You can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country. You can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump.”  For that reason, we cannot be rid of him soon enough.

Posted December 22, 2020


The Dictator’s Playbook

Authoritarian regimes come to power either by forcefully overthrowing — in a coup or a revolution — the existing government or through an election after which the victors corrupt democratic institutions. In the latter case, the typical way to undermine a democracy is to delegitimize an independent press and bend the judicial system to the will of the chief executive. Such is a putative dictator’s playbook, employed in several Eastern European countries in recent years.

In Hungary, the self-described “illiberal democracy” of Prime Minster Viktor Orbán has intimidated the media by feeding stories with little factual basis to favored outlets that are staunch supporters of official policy and by not allowing independent newspapers and broadcasters access to government officials. At the same time, Orbán’s far-right political party exercised its muscle in the Hungarian Parliament to install a parallel court system that cements executive control of the judiciary. The Polish Law and Justice Party — in power since 2015 — has waged a similar campaign to undermine the rule of law by packing the courts with subservient jurists who willingly implement the party’s far-right agenda. In Hungary, Poland, and other former Soviet satellites, the hopes that democratic societies would follow the fall of communism have been dashed. 

President Donald Trump may not have studied the Hungarian and Polish examples closely, if at all — he studies very little, by all accounts — but in his three years in the White House he repeatedly has demonstrated his hostility to democracy. Trump’s attacks on the long American tradition of a free press began before his election to the presidency, and they have intensified since. He has called individual reporters “nasty” and accused The New York Times of “treason.” Like all dictators, Trump cries “fake news” not at stories that are inaccurate but at accounts that accurately report news he does not like. He has even employed the Stalinist phrase “enemy of the people” in tweets referring to “The Fake News Media.”

At the same time, Trump endeavors to create an “alternate reality” by promulgating easily disproved conspiracy theories which he and his allies dole out to the compliant state media, also known as Fox News. Millions of Trump’s loyal followers gobble up disinformation spun by the administration and foreign actors with their own agendas. And, in shades of Orbán’s Hungary, administration officials have denied access to reporters from what the administration deems hostile news outlets. Just last month, for example, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to allow NPR’s diplomatic correspondent a seat on his airplane because the secretary did not like a line of questioning on Ukraine pursued by another NPR reporter. 

The American tradition of a free press is well established, and numerous attacks by Trump and his lackeys have not cowed national institutions such as The New York Times and The Washington Post. But, the relentless assaults combined with the availability of social media and the ability of information and disinformation to go viral in a matter of minutes makes it easier for Trump to spread lies than it was for dictators in the past. 

Trump’s war on the judiciary is even more worrisome than his onslaughts on the press. Since his acquittal in the sham trial conducted by sycophantic Republican senators, Trump has retaliated against those who testified against him during impeachment. While not explicitly an attack on the judicial system, vengeance has been meted out against those who testified pursuant to a legal subpoena and who dared to tell the truth. At the same time, Trump has tried to bend the Justice Department to his whims in protecting those who assisted his illegal activities. He inveighed against federal prosecutors who recommended a jail sentence for Trump crony Roger Stone that fell within federal sentencing guidelines. He also attacked the judge in the Stone case and the forewoman of the jury that convicted Stone. 

The president considers the Attorney General his own personal lawyer. Trump hated Jeff Sessions because the ultra-right wing Alabamian had the temerity to follow guidelines requiring him to recuse himself in the Russia investigation. Sessions had no choice in the matter, but Trump saw recusal as an act of disloyalty. In William Barr, the current attorney general, Trump believes he has found his Roy Cohn who will protect him. Barr’s recent protestation that Trump’s tweets make it difficult for Barr to do his job sound more like a coverup than a heartfelt claim staking out judicial independence. A plausible explanation of Barr’s remarks suggest he meant: Mr. President stop tweeting and allow me quietly to be your lackey.

Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch pointed out that the Department of Justice, unlike other federal agencies, is named for an ideal. Trump does not believe in ideals; he sees the world comprising those who are for him and those against him. No president before Trump sought to weaponize criminal law, turning the independent judiciary into a cudgel to punish political enemies — he still calls for Hillary Clinton to be locked up — and a shield for allies who run afoul of the law. Not even Richard Nixon went as far as Trump appears willing to go. 

Trump’s undermining of democracy will accelerate if there is a second term. Revenge will be pursued against numerous perceived enemies. It is not hard to imagine Trump finding a way to use federal benefits and tax breaks to go after the Mormon church in retaliation for Senator Mitt Romney voting guilty in the Senate trial. The Treasury Department already has handed Hunter Biden’s financial records to Senate Republicans pursuing their quixotic case against the former vice president’s son. Who knows what Trump and his allies will conjure up against potential Democratic opponents between now and election day?

This is a president who believes the Constitution gives him unlimited powers. He appears willing to act on that mistaken belief in frightening ways in a potential second term. Republicans have proven they will not provide any check on Trump’s perceived power. Even more frightening is the possibility of what might happen should Trump lose in November. Will he refuse to vacate the White House on a phony pretext of electoral fraud? In 2016, he declined to commit to accepting the results of the election and then claimed — with no evidence — that millions of fraudulent votes were cast. 

Trump is a born cheater, and he will try to cheat in the 2020 election, either by rigging it or not abiding by its results. It is what dictators do, and Trump is a dictator who knowingly or unknowingly is following the examples of other dictators in amassing power and undermining democracy and the rule of law.

This is a scary time.

Postscript: I wrote this piece the afternoon before posting. It sat on my desktop for several hours, and, as I thought about the implications of what I had written, I became depressed. The truth is, I love this country, its institutions, and its history. My grandparents, both maternal and paternal, came here in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, fleeing pogroms, tyranny, and poverty, seeking a better life. The United States was good to them and to their children and grandchildren. The thought that tyranny is fast approaching — if it is not already here — is terribly upsetting to me. I trust it is to you, as well. 

Posted February 18, 2020

A Frightening Place

It was all bullshit. —  President Donald Trump, February 6, 2020, celebrating his Senate acquittal. It was the first time a president has used that profanity in a formal event on camera in the East Room of the White House. 

It does not quite have the forgiving tone of Abraham Lincoln’s “With malice toward none; with charity for all;” or Franklin Roosevelt’s call to struggle, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself;” or John Kennedy’s appeal to action, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country;” or Ronald Reagan’s challenge, ”Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” “It was all bullshit” passes for eloquence in the era of Trump, and the words exemplify the destruction this president has wrought on the nation’s sense of decency, fair play, honesty, and political comity.

Trump has wreaked havoc on the nation, from a dysfunctional foreign policy that rewards dictators and punishes longtime friends and allies to domestic policies that hasten environmental destruction, exacerbate climate change, contribute to increasing income inequality, and undermine healthcare. Many of Trump’s regressive policies can be undone by the stroke of a pen by the next president. Some of the recovery from Trumpism requires voters not only to throw him out of the White House but to elect enough Democrats in the fall to control both houses of Congress.

But, unfortunately, I fear Trump has done lasting damage to the nation, setting dangerous precedents for future presidents. His coarseness, his meanness, and his ability to corrupt the nation’s political processes and escape retribution may serve as a template for future presidents. The president’s ability to bend one of the nation’s political parties to his will damages the proud tradition of independent political action and the long history of courageous politicians speaking truth to power (Utah Senator Mitt Romney is the exception). Trump has recast the Republican Party into an instrument of his narcissism, making it a willing accomplice in his campaign to accrue near dictatorial powers and his undermining of the Constitution and the rule of law.

Trump also has succeeded in converting roughly 40 percent of the electorate into slavish supporters of his ill behavior willing to turn a blind eye to his lawlessness. Trumpistas support what can only be termed a “cult of personality,” which believes the leader can do no wrong. They go further, implicitly sanctioning Trump’s crass speech and despicable actions, suggesting that if the president does it, it is not illegal. Richard Nixon would have approved.

The president’s recent behavior is evidence that his impeachment and subsequent acquittal have emboldened him in his pursuit of dictatorial powers. In this, he is aided by his lackeys in control of key governmental agencies and his sycophants in Congress. 

Exhibit number one: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has turned over Hunter Biden’s confidential financial records to Republican Senators Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin to aid Trump in his quixotic attempt to smear former vice president Joe Biden. Mnuchin acceded to the request the senators made one hour after Trump’s acquittal despite refusing to release Trump’s tax returns as required by law. 

Exhibit number two: South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham — often an unhinged defender of Trump — says Attorney General William Barr has “created a process” for Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, to feed the Justice Department dirt on the Bidens dug up in Ukraine. As in authoritarian nations, the organs of government are used to smear and damage the leader’s perceived enemies. At the same time, Barr has shut down six investigations into Trump and his businesses, and the attorney general has issued new rules to prevent the FBI and other law enforcement agencies from conducting politically sensitive investigations. Barr’s decree may be an attempt to prevent abuses such as those that occurred in 2016, or, it might be an attempt to insure that there are no probes of possible foreign interference in the 2020 election.

Exhibit number three: Trump has retaliated against two aides who testified under subpoena in the House impeachment inquiry. Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, was recalled from Brussels, and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman was removed from his position at the National Security Council. Now, a president certainly is entitled to have aides whom he trusts, but the haste with which these firings were announced and the manner in which Vindman was ousted suggests Trumpian retribution against those he blames for impeachment. In Vindman’s case, his brother — who also had a government post — was removed as well (shades of Joseph Stalin ordering the deaths of the families of those he purged), and both Vindmans were escorted immediately from the White House. Both Sondland and Alexander Vindman were planning on leaving the administration soon, but Trump sought public vengenance. 

The recent firings confirm the suspicion that Trump wants only yes men and women working for him. Any president benefits from diverse opinions, but in the case of the current occupant of the Oval Office, the wish for lackeys serving him is particularly dangerous. Trump is an ignorant man made more dangerous because he is oblivious to his ignorance. No Team of Rivals as depicted in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s seminal study of Lincoln and his Cabinet for Trump. 

The nation is in a frightening place. Romney has been warned he would not be safe if he attends a conservative conference, and one-third of Republicans have a positive view of Vladimir Putin, the murderous, autocratic president of Russia who Trump clearly admires. And, our nation is led by a man who utters expletives in the White House, fires those who are not 110% for him, utters lies with abandon in the State of the Union, and blasphemes at the National Prayer Breakfast. Matters will only deteriorate if Trump is reelected and is encouraged to further consolidate authority. As it is, I fear what the months until the election hold for us.

Posted February 11, 2020

Trump’s Campaign Strategy: The Big Smear

President Donald Trump is fixed in his beliefs and prejudices, incapable of learning anything new. The two major events of this week — his acquittal by pusillanimous Republican senators (Utah’s Mitt Romney excluded) and the Iowa caucuses — only reinforce his preconceived political modus operandi.  

What does that mean? On the one hand, the failure of the Senate to demonstrate spine and oust the rapscallion from office confirms Trump’s lifelong conviction that the rules do not apply to him and he can engage in further lawless behavior. On the other, Trump will interpret the results of the Iowa caucus as confirmation that sliming opponents works. 

This is the nexus of Trump’s Ukrainian escapade and the 2020 presidential election — scandal meeting campaign. They are the linked outcomes of Trump’s amoral approach to politics. Trump has no ideas; he is incapable of articulating a political thought beyond shibboleths taught him by his handlers and slogans tested at his cult-like rallies. The words “Trump” and “thought” do not belong in the same sentence. But, attacks and insults come naturally to him. The veracity of those attacks and insults is irrelevant.

Trump knows most people view him as ethically challenged. He understands that stink follows him from his business career and personal life. He hides as much as he can (remember those promised tax returns?), but what we know combined with what he keeps from us makes us justifiably suspicious. That goes for his followers as well as his opponents. His core strategy is not to appear ethical, certainly not to suggest he is more ethical than his adversaries. No, the Trumpian approach is to make his rivals appear no better than he. If voters conclude that both candidates — Trump and whomever the Democrats nominate — are scandal-ridden, then voters well throw up their hands and vote for the candidate who entertains them. And, for many voters, Trump is entertaining. (Note: His Tuesday night State of the Union was pure theater, from having First Lady Melania Trump hang a medal on controversial talk radio host Rush Limbaugh to reuniting a military family in the gallery.)

So far, the strategy works. Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, and I am sure he believes he wounded Joe Biden in Monday’s Iowa caucus. It is irrelevant that Trump’s accusations against his opponents are either downright erroneous or highly exaggerated. What matters is that he — and his sycophantic surrogates — repeat the accusations frequently and loudly. The attacks gain currency through frequent repetition in the media, and as totalitarian leaders such as Hitler and Stalin demonstrated, a lie told often enough becomes accepted “truth.”

Every day of the 2016 campaign seemingly brought a new Trump scandal, yet he succeeded in deflecting his ethical challenges by aggressively pushing the Clinton email story. Clinton was certainly sloppy in caring for her emails, but any suggestion of equivalence between her purported “scandal” and Trump’s many scandals was absurd. Still, chants of “lock her up” certainly did damage.

I am not suggesting that Clinton lost because Trump attacked her. She ran a bad campaign, former FBI Director Jim Comey’s mishandling of the investigation into her emails wounded her as did Russian interference. But, I am suggesting that Trump believes his attacks worked, just as he probably believes sliming Joe Biden contributed to the former vice president’s disappointing apparent fourth-place finish in the muddled Iowa caucuses. 

Trump launched the Ukraine scandal because he believed Biden was his most dangerous opponent. Even though a whistleblower exposed the scandal and the House impeached the president, Trump, his congressional allies, and rightwing media outlets have been hammering the accusation that Biden is corrupt — or, at least as corrupt as Trump. 

He will use the same approach on other Democratic candidates. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders will be attacked as a socialist bordering on communist, and Trump will not shy away from mentioning Sanders’ honeymoon in the Soviet Union, insinuating Sanders engaged in treasonous activities. Trump’s friends in the Russian government may help in this campaign. 

Critics rightly accuse Trump of racism and corruption, but if Pete Buttigieg is the Democratic nominee, Trump will deflect charges of his racial insensitivity with allegations of racism against Buttigieg stemming from his tenure as mayor of South Bend, Indiana. As for Trump’s overt corruption? What about Buttigieg’s consulting work at McKinsey? 

If Trump cannot conjure a scandal, he will engage in ad hominem attacks on his opponents, calling Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” or referring to “Mini” Mike Bloomberg. Trump’s ability to engage in critiques of other people’s physical appearance is mystifying. But, it entertains his followers and works as a substitute for serious discussion of issues.  

How should Democrats pondering who best to nominate against Trump respond? That is a relevant question considering the Democratic side’s emphasis on which candidate is most “electable.” Certainly if electability means a candidate free of scandal, that is an irrelevant criterion. All of the Democratic candidates are, as far as I know, clean. That will not stop Trump from smearing each and every one. But, Trump’s big smear ought not to influence how Democrats choose their nominee.

Posted February 7, 2020

Senate Republicans: Do Your Job!

The wonderful Yiddish word chutzpah defies easy translation into English. Like many Yiddish words, it is best defined by a story. And, the classic chutzpah story is about the boy who kills both his parents and then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.

The classic definition, that is, until Republicans came up with a novel approach to the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. Republican senators complained frequently that House managers presented nothing new. “They’re really not bringing forth new information,” said Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican. “I’ve  not heard anything new,” commented Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott.

That is, to say the least, a bit rich. Barrasso and Scott — along with the other 51 Republican senators — voted multiple times so far to block new evidence and witness testimony, guaranteeing that the House managers would not be able to present any new information. It is chutzpah to deny prosecutors the right to bring new information, then turn around and excoriate the prosecutors for not bringing new information.

The ban on witnesses appearing in the Senate trial may change with the stunning leak to The New York Times of damaging information from a draft of a book by John Bolton, the former national security adviser. According to the manuscript, Trump told Bolton that he wanted to freeze security assistance to Ukraine until that country announced investigations into the Bidens. Bolton’s description of Trump’s intentions undermines a key defense offered by Trump’s lawyers: The claim that stalling Ukrainian aid was separate from the president’s desire that Ukraine investigate alleged corruption by the Bidens. Bolton’s allegation also undercuts the argument made by House Republicans that Ukraine received the money in the end. Instead, Bolton’s assertion supports the contention of Representative Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, that the administration released the Ukrainian funds only because it got caught. 

The Bolton bombshell puts additional pressure on Senate Republicans to change course and agree to call witnesses. Mitt Romney of Utah, always considered one of the few Republican senators who might vote for new testimony, says the dramatic new information makes it “increasingly likely” that the Senate will vote to call Bolton as a witness. Maine Republican Susan Collins tweeted a statement that reports of Bolton’s draft “strengthen the case for witnesses.” 

Senate Republicans have been loath to call new witnesses because all of the likely outcomes from new evidence are bad for Trump and the Republican Party. One possible but extremely unlikely result of new testimony is that it would be exculpatory. A second possible outcome is that witnesses confirm Trump’s guilt. Bolton’s testimony would have to corroborate his manuscript, which points to the president’s guilt. Bolton also names names, implicating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General William Barr, and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney in either the plot to deny Ukraine aid or the subsequent coverup. If Bolton testifies and cites them, the Senate would have to subpoena Pompeo, Barr, and Mulvaney. They would either confirm what he wrote or choose to perjure themselves. That is a serious crime, so taking one for the boss is not likely in this scenario. New witness testimony logically points to a yes vote on the first article of impeachment, abuse of power. Finally, a Senate vote to call witnesses probably would lead to administration stonewalling, setting up a fight between the executive and legislative branches of government. If the administration loses all challenges to congressional subpoenas, which is what should happen, but then refuses to allow its officials to testify, senators would have no choice but to vote yes on article two, obstruction of Congress. 

Republicans may continue to deny the obvious and either vote to hear new testimony and ignore it or refuse to even hear it. That would lead to the outcome Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been maneuvering toward all along: A quick vote to acquit. Such a head-in-the-sand decision by the GOP would be a short-run victory but a long-run nightmare. More information like Bolton’s will be revealed in coming days, weeks, and months, which will embarrass Republicans who vote to acquit a guilty president. 

Truth is a tricky thing to squelch in a democracy. As Schiff told the Senate last week, “The truth is going to come out. Indeed, the truth has already come out. But more and more of it will…. And the only question is, do you want to hear it now? Do you want to know the full truth now?… You should want the whole truth to come out. You should want to know about every player in this sordid business…. [And] I think the public has a right to know.” The evidence — already more than compelling — will continue to pile up and every senator who votes to exonerate will be asked for the rest of his or her career to explain that vote. Here is hoping those careers are short.

Republicans may use one more ploy to exonerate the president. They may retreat to the argument that this is an election year, so let the voters decide. That is ludicrous since Trump’s attempt to manipulate the results of the coming election is the whole point of his strong-arming Ukraine. Also, the notion that lawmakers should not speak for the voters is absurd. Speaking for the voters is precisely what lawmakers are elected to do. It is their job. It does not stop being their job in an election year. The Framers did not place a time limit on impeachment. They did not put in the Constitution a clause stipulating that Congress can impeach in years one, two, and three of a presidency but not in year four. 

So, again: Senators stop the chutzpah. Listen to the evidence and follow where it takes you, which is toward only one conclusion: The removal of Donald Trump from office. Do your job!

Posted January 28, 2020

Constitutional Folderol

That great constitutional scholar — President Donald Trump, who found five articles in the Constitution no one knew existed — now has discovered the founding document’s true intent on the power of the president: Unlimited, as revealed in the flabbergasting letter on impeachment by the president’s legal counsel to Democratic leaders in the House. In an attempt to further his legal legacy, no doubt the president will endow a chair in constitutional law at Harvard University after his tenure in office. Maybe a chair at Liberty University would be more appropriate.

Trump has acted throughout his term as if there were few or no checks on his authority. He frequently has attempted to assume the powers of an autocratic ruler, and often he has praised autocratic leaders such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. This past July, Trump boasted of the breadth of his power. “Then, I have an Article II, where I have to [sic] the right to do whatever I want as president,” he said. “But, I don’t even talk about that.” And, Mr. President, you should not talk about it, since that is a grievous mischaracterization of what is in Article II, which grants the president modest powers, including commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the power to negotiate treaties, and the right to appoint ambassadors, judges, and other senior officials. The latter two most be done with the approval of the Senate. Article I, by the way, conveys vast powers to the Legislative Branch of government. 

Trump is adept at finding powers in the Constitution that have eluded everyone before the self-described “stable genius” started opining on the document. Recently, Trump divined that impeachment applies to far more members of the U.S. government than previously thought. The president recently tweeted that Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney, a critic of Trump’s Ukraine phone call, is a “pompous ‘ass’” who should be impeached. No one before realized that members of Congress could be impeached. Conventional wisdom assumed impeachment referred only to members of the Executive and Judicial branches of government. But, Trump is nothing if not dogged, and he subsequently expanded his extra-constitutional demand to include “Nervous Nancy” Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, and “Liddle’ Adam Schiff,” a California Democrat who chairs the House Intelligence Committee. Both, Trump tweeted, are guilty of “Treason” and mist be “immediately Impeached.” (The capital “I” must mean very immediately.)

In accusing the two lawmakers of “Treason” Trump also has redefined the term’s constitutional meaning. “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort,” is the constitutional definition of treason. Nowhere does the Constitution suggest that criticizing the chief executive is tantamount to treason. There is one infamous attempt in American history to define sedition, but not treason, as public opposition to the government. In 1798, a Federalist-dominated Congress passed the Sedition Act which levied fines and imprisonment against those who “write, print, utter, or publish… any false, scandalous and malicious writing” against the government. The law was signed by President John Adams, who lost reelection to Thomas Jefferson in 1800. Jefferson’s Republican allies in Congress immediately repealed it and most of the accompanying Alien Acts. 

Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, has furthered Trump’s constitutional interpretations in his incredible letter to congressional leaders. Cipollone made more of a political than a legal argument, aimed at winning in the court of public opinion rather than in Congress or the judiciary. Among Cipollone’s points is the contention that the House impeachment inquiry is not valid because the House never voted to authorize it, as done in the cases of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. It is true that no such vote has been taken this time, but that has no meaning. The Constitution merely says, “The House of Representatives… shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.” The document does not describe the process, which leaves the rules of a proceeding entirely up to the House.

Cipollone attacked the House’s inquiry as overly partisan, lacking in due process, and a violation of constitutional norms. Again, all that is beside the point, since the House determines its own proceedings. The politics behind Cipollone’s screed is clear: He (Trump, that is) hopes to rally the president’s base, convincing Trumpistas that all of this is a ”COUP” and a “witch hunt,” as the president likes to say, aimed at reversing the 2016 presidential election. 

The White House’s strategy may backfire, convincing the opposition instead that Trump considers himself above the law. Already, there is an indication that White House intransigence about supplying witnesses and documents, as requested by congressional committees, is persuading many Americans to back the impeachment inquiry. Recent polls — including one by Fox News, Trump’s favorite network — show mounting support for an inquiry, at least, with more Americans than ever before favoring not only impeachment but Trump’s conviction in the Senate and removal from office. 

There is no legal or constitutional substance in Cipollone’s arguments. As George Conway — a lawyer and frequent Trump critic, who is married to Kellyanne Conway, a White House adviser — tweeted, “I cannot fathom how any self-respecting member of the bar could affix his name to this letter. It’s pure hackery, and it disgraces the profession.” And, as the polls show, Trumpian intransigence may be doing the president more harm than good in the court of public opinion. The strategy of trying to label impeachment as an example of Democratic overreach is undone by the arguments based on constitutional folderol and legal nonsense offered by Trump and his allies.

Posted October 11, 2019


The Smallness of It All

Reading the notes of President Donald Trump’s telephone call to the president of Ukraine was as dispiriting as reading the transcripts of President Richard Nixon’s tapes. The same smallness, the same pettiness, the same sense of victimization, the same meanness characterizes both. Nixon’s tapes, with all their “expletives deleted” (it was a more decorous time) reveal the man as a bigot whose sole goal appeared to be to get even with those he believed had scorned him. Trump, we already know, is a bigot and a narcissist with no moral compass (sorry Ivanka, if, as you said, you got your “moral compass” from dear old Dad, you are in trouble). The released version of the Ukraine call did not tell us anything new about Trump, but it did confirm — as if confirmation were needed — that Trump — like a seedy two-bit mob boss — will do anything, stoop to any level, to tar his opponents. 

Henry Adams, the great-grandson of one president and the grandson of another, once remarked, “The progress of evolution from President Washington to President Grant alone was evidence enough to upset Darwin.” Lucky for Darwin, Adams never encountered the presidencies of Nixon and Trump. To be fair, Nixon was not a man without talents. He was learned in foreign affairs, and his presidency was marked by accomplishments: The opening of U.S. contacts with China, negotiating arms limitation treaties with the Soviet Union, and important reforms in civil rights, the environment, and worker protection. But, he was a deeply flawed politician — an opportunist as John Farrell shows in his masterful biography, Richard Nixon: A Life — who nursed grievances against what he saw as the elites of the Eastern establishment. Nixon’s resentments stemmed from a persecution complex that manifested itself in the belief that his political opponents and the press were “out to get him.” Nixon’s insecurities and paranoia, more than anything else, explain the Watergate scandal. 

Trump is similar to Nixon, but without the intelligence nor the disgraced president’s accomplishments. Philip Rucker’s superb piece in The Washington Post this past Sunday details Trump’s sense of victimization, a trait he shares with Nixon. But Trump, Rucker writes, unlike Nixon and other past presidents with “a deep sense of persecution and self-pity… is the first [president] to broadcast that mentality to the world,” which he does in virtually every public appearance and tweet. Trump also differs from Nixon in that he commits his crimes in plain sight. Nixon organized the “plumbers” in secrecy, making it difficult to discover the depth of his criminality. Trump, aided by Rudy Giuliani (everyone’s version of a “crazy uncle”), brags about his misdeeds.

One of the more disturbing aspects of the Ukrainian scandal — indeed, of all Trump’s myriad misdeeds — is the reluctance of Republicans, who ought to know better, to speak out. Their reason is obvious: The Republican Party has become a wholly owned subsidiary of Donald Trump and any attempt to challenge the “boss” will lead to a primary battle in which the Trump critic is sure to lose. Trump is adept at whipping up the furor of his base against those he attacks. So, Republicans cower before Trump, fearing reprisal.

As has been pointed out, Republicans in 1974 supported Nixon until the very end, until it became obvious that Nixon was guilty of the very things of which he stood accused. When Democrats began to investigate the connection between Nixon’s aides and the burglary at the Watergate, House Republican Leader Gerald Ford of Michigan (who became president upon Nixon’s resignation), referred to a “political witch hunt.” Kansas Republican Senator Robert Dole called press accounts of wrongdoing “a barrage of unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations.” And, Tennessee Senator Howard Baker’s famous questions — “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” — may have enshrined Baker as a man of rectitude, but the Republican senator intended the questions as a protection for Nixon on the mistaken belief that the president did not know about Watergate and the subsequent cover-up. 

It was only in the summer of 1974, after the “smoking gun” tapes revealed Nixon’s complicity in the cover-up, that Republicans deserted the president. At that point, Republican grandees — led by Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater — told Nixon he would be convicted in the Senate. Rather than face that ignominy, Nixon resigned. So far, that has not happened in the scandal surrounding Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s president, but it is also true that most of Trump’s defenders in Congress — at least the outspoken ones — are members of the House and not the Senate. It is a case of “he said, she said,” according to Tennessee Republican Representative Chuck Fleischmann; the whistleblower had “zero first-hand knowledge,” said House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana; and Democratic “political bias” is fueling the investigations, opined Representative Devin Nunes of California. 

Senators are keeping their powder dry — except for Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who defends Trump, and Utah’s Mitt Romney and Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, who expressed concern and are cautious in their statements — because they will sit as a jury in a trial if the House impeaches. Far better not to get too far ahead of this story with a defense of Trump when senators might well be presented with either overwhelming evidence of the president’s impeachable offenses or a cascade of public sentiment against the president, or both, which is what happened in 1974.

Watergate and Ukraine, two scandals concocted by small, amoral men to further their own political ends, regardless of the harm to the country and Constitution they swore an oath to “protect and defend.” During Watergate some patriots rose to the occasion and performed heroically. They included Democratic Representative Peter Rodino of New Jersey, who headed the House Judiciary Committee, Democratic Representative Barbara Jordan of Texas, whose eloquence moved many, six Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee who found the courage to vote for at least one of the articles of impeachment against Nixon, and, of course, Goldwater and a few of his colleagues who convinced Nixon that he was finished, saving the country the spectacle of a trial in the Senate. 

Will there be great men and women this time around? Yes, on the Democratic side, but who among Republicans will stand up and do the right thing and put country before party?

Posted October 1, 2019