WHERE IS THE conscience of the GOP?
On Thursday, President Trump somehow found a new way to disgrace the presidency and expose the cowardice of his fellow Republicans. In rambling remarks at a private meeting in New York City, he implicitly threatened the life of officials in his administration who had helped a whistle-blower reveal Trump’s abuse of power during a phone call this summer with the president of Ukraine — the bombshell that triggered Congress to initiate an impeachment inquiry this week.
It’s no longer surprising that Trump makes such nauseating statements. But what remains disturbing is the continued inability of virtually every Republican in Congress to rebuke him. Each one of them has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, yet sits by silently while the president behaves like a mobster and erodes the rule of law.
In his remarks, a video of which was leaked to the Los Angeles Times, Trump compared officials who helped reveal his abuse of power to spies — and reminded his audience how spies used to be punished (death, if anyone missed the hint). The members of the audience were US diplomatic staffers. Absent an actual gun to the head, it couldn’t have been a clearer threat against any officials in the audience who might consider doing the right thing in the future. Because, make no mistake, exposing corrupt behavior is the right choice for any public servant: Blowing the whistle when they suspect wrongdoing is exactly what Americans should expect of their officials, and Republicans ought to be able to join Democrats in saying so.
In this case, in fact, the whistle-blower went exactly by the book when he learned that Trump had pressured the Ukrainians to investigate a political rival, former vice president Joe Biden, filing a complaint through official channels instead of leaking it to the press. Whoever the whistle-blower is, he behaved like a patriot.
That doesn’t necessarily mean GOP officeholders have to line up with Democrats to impeach Trump. Confronted with his assaults on the rule of law, though, they do have a responsibility to at least speak up on the whistle-
But with a few exceptions, the only response from Capitol Hill Republicans during this week of astonishing revelations has been silence.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, now a Utah senator, has been a lonely voice in the GOP caucus showing genuine concern regarding the complaint. “If the president asked or pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme,” he tweeted Sunday, before the release of a rough transcript showed Trump doing just that.
The call, a summary of which was released this week, was wrong in a staggering number of ways. It’s corrupt for the president to conduct US foreign policy in his own interests. It’s outrageous to collude with another country to meddle in American politics. It’s wrong to compromise the civil liberties of American citizens, whether they’re Joe Biden or Joe Schmoe, by instigating a baseless criminal investigation in another country.
The strongest GOP objections have come from the candidates challenging Trump for the 2020 Republican nomination. Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman, tweeted: “Whistleblowers should be respected, praised, thanked, and protected. Trump attacks and smears this whistleblower and says he should be hung for treason. Just despicable.”
As long as they’re talking off the record, Republicans are glad to tell reporters how much Trump’s behavior appalls them. If they could hold the vote in secret, 35 Republican senators would support removing President Trump from office, according to Jeff Flake, Arizona’s former Republican senator.
But silence is now complicity, and history isn’t going to accept fear of a primary challenge as an excuse for allowing Donald Trump to keep up his assault on democratic institutions.
Republicans cannot keep giving this president a pass on his behavior and expect the norms of US democracy to endure.