Watching the downfall of a generation of Washington Republicans

President Trump, we have noted, has not only disgraced himself but also besmirched the reputations of everyone from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to son-in-law Jared Kushner for their complicity in a dark comedy of deceit and self-created debacles. A debate now rages over whether Vice President Pence is a liar or a dupe. CNN reported on Pences claim that he did not know that Michael T. Flynn was under investigation before taking the national security adviser job and that Flynn had multiple contacts with Russian officials (during the campaign and/or transition):

The question of what Pence knew and when first arose months earlier after reports surfaced that Flynn discussed sanctions with Russias ambassador to Washington despite Pences public claim to the contrary. Its also one that was posed after Pence stood before news cameras and claimed that Trump had fired FBI director James Comey because of a memo written by the deputy attorney general only for Trump to later reveal he planned to fire Comey regardless. … He was firmly in charge [of the transition], yet its not the first time Pence has claimed to have been unaware of crucial information that surfaced during the transition period. Pence claimed in a March interview with Fox News that it was the first Id heard of Flynn earning hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby for a Turkish businessman, which ultimately prompted Flynn to register as a foreign agent. But Flynns pro-Turkey lobbying work had been in the news for months before that March interview. Pence had also received a letter in November from the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee Rep. Elijah Cummings describing Flynns foreign work.

Pence might reach the presidency to fill out his bosss term if Trump is forced out, but it is hard to imagine him ever achieving that office on his own. Many will have concluded that he is either too dim and gullible or too dishonest for the presidency. Moreover, his decision to sign on as Trumps VP and vouch for his character will be powerful evidence of rotten judgment and a permanent stain on his record.

In that regard, Pence is hardly alone. Either during or at the end of his first term, Trumps presidency will end, voluntarily or not. (No matter how strong the economy might be, a president waist-deep in scandal and unable to accomplish major legislative initiatives is likely to face primary and/or general-election defeat in a reelection bid or decline to seek re-election.) When the party or what remains of it looks for leadership, where will it turn?

Not to the likes of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) or Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who opportunistically backed Trump after declaring his unfitness. Not to the likes of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who became Trumps palace guard, vouching for Cabinet secretaries and refusing to denounce conflicts of interest and possible violations of the Constitutions emoluments clause. Come to think of it, any Republican who failed in his or her constitutional duty of oversight, continuing to turn a blind eye toward wrongdoing and to rationalize Trumps conduct, should be disqualified from high office, if not shunned by conservatives. (As for the House members who thought Trumps chumminess with Russia was humorous, one can only marvel at their gross hypocrisy in get-tough-with-Russia rhetoric.) We can count on one hand the number of lawmakers who have not committed gross political malpractice either by acts of commission or omission since Trump was elected (even if one excuses endorsing an obviously unfit person for president).

If the GOP is to survive at all after Trump, it most likely will need to turn to governors or ex-lawmakers who did not carry Trumps water or attempt to defend the indefensible. I raise that now because it will reflect on the actions of Republicans on Capitol Hill for the next couple of years. Keep in mind how self-destructive their behavior is as you wince watching Capitol Hill Republicans flack for Trump, explain why ongoing possible violations of the emoluments clause are no big deal, brush off reckless disclosure of top-secret information to the Russians or refuse to chastise the president for cuddling up to dictators. As painful as it is to watch these performances, some satisfaction can be derived from knowing that these Republicans are doing incalculable damage to their ambition for future leadership in the party.

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