I get it that the Republicans are utterly craven and unprincipled. Indeed, since 2004, I have been writing about the hypocrisy, the opportunism, the utter disregard of their oath of office, their willingness to sacrifice the nation– all for their own power — characterizes the Republican Party of our times.
But there is something I don’t get: why are they making themselves accomplices in Trump’s ongoing effort to obstruct justice? In other words, what is their calculation of their own power interests to do what we’ve been seeing congressional Republicans — including, to name a couple of noteworthy examples, Senators Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham — doing to undermine the Mueller investigation, the FBI, Christopher Steele, and any other players who are contributing to the case that threatens to bring down the presidency of Donald Trump?
I get it that they don’t want to be seen by their base as helping to expose Trump’s likely crimes and misdemeanors. Although Trump’s support in the Republican base has been steadily but gradually eroding, the great majority of those voters still “approve” of Trump. And any opportunistic Republican (which means almost any politician connected with the Republican Party in these times) will want to avoid being perceived as Trump’s enemy. (There’s a good reason why the public critiques of Trump have come from the likes of Senators Corker and Flake who don’t plan on facing their voters again.)
But it is one thing to stand aside and let Mueller and the Democrats and the media expose Trump. And it is quite another to actively and publicly run the kind of sleazy and dishonest campaign we’ve seen over the past month-plus, to protect Trump from the damning picture now being filled in, and presumably eventually to be laid out before the public by Mueller and his team.
The mystery is not in what they are trying to do. It seems straight-forward enough to infer that the Republicans in Congress don’t want Trump to fall. The mystery, rather, is why they want to keep Trump propped up in the Oval Office.
I never bought the oft-proposed theory that the Republicans have been protecting Trump all this while because they needed him to sign whatever legislation they managed to pass (like the rotten health-care bill that failed, or the disgraceful tax bill that passed). If Trump falls, he’d be replaced by someone else who will reliably sign such legislation– either Pence, if he survives, or Paul Ryan, if Pence goes down with Trump.
It doesn’t seem that the need to stay on the good side of the base requires the active measures we’ve seen from the Republicans of late. If they just laid low, wouldn’t that protect their standing with their voters?
So it seems that the Republicans must believe that keeping Trump in office is a great deal better for them than allowing him to be exposed and perhaps removed. But I don’t see why they’d believe that.
Yes, it is surely embarrassing — and politically wounding — for the Republicans that their Party nominated this malignant narcissist, habitual liar, whose debilities are becoming ever more evident. And it will surely hurt the Republican brand that they were willing to rally round this repugnant nominee that the Republican base, through the primary process, foisted upon them.
But all that is fully baked into the cake, as the anti-Trump passions in the electorate have been creating a Democratic wave evident in the various special elections held around the nation since Trump took office.
It would seem that Trump’s remaining in office only threatens to solidify the electorate’s rejection of the Republican Party. And worse: The Republicans have gone beyond sharing a Party label with Trump, and beyond being willing to legitimize him by working with him as “their” President. Their present conduct would seem not only to tie them still more closely to this unpopular President. but also, by becoming his active accomplices, to taint themselves with all of Trump’s ugliness being exposed. (Perhaps all the way up to what reasonably might be called “treason.”)
How can that serve their own political interests?
Are they afraid that Trump could hurt them if they stand aside, or just faintly go through the motions? Is there some way they think that they will do better to prop Trump up rather than to cut their losses and let him fall? Is there some other piece of this puzzle that reveals a rational strategic motive for their serving the President in this disreputable way that can so easily be exposed (as Senator Feinstein’s release of the Simpson testimony this week so clearly exposed the fraudulent Republican line on Fusion GPS, Christopher Steele, and the FBI)?
If someone has a rational explanation for the Republicans’ choice, I would very much like to hear it.
Or is the answer not in the realm of rationality? (It was also puzzling that the Republicans were so eager to pass a tax bill that was so deeply unpopular, and likely to hurt most Americans.) Does it make sense to think of the Republicans as possessed by some self-destructive impulse?
It is tempting to think, in this context, of a famous line from Euripides: “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.”