Republicans dig a deeper bunker

Published 5:54 pm Friday, September 27, 2019

By Dick Polman

We dare not contemplate what the Washington Republicans would say if Donald Trump were to actually shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue.

In the wake of the impeachment inquiry, formally announced on Tuesday by Nancy Pelosi, they still don’t think their leader has done anything wrong. Yet here’s the gist of what we already know: Trump, in the span of one July phone call to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, asked eight times for (fake) dirt on domestic opposition candidate Joe Biden.

With the release of a phone call summary, we have further confirmation. He sought a Ukrainian probe of Biden, and his son, Hunter, and he wanted Zelensky to collude with Bill Barr, Trump’s chief law enforcement apparatchik.

A key quote from the summary: “There is a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution (of a company where his son was on the board — a fake charge), and a lot of people want to find out about that. So whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great.”

So Trump has essentially admitted that he solicited foreign collusion. Aside from the obvious fact that he has already copped to an impeachable offense — under federal law, no one can “solicit, accept, or receive” foreign campaign donations “or other things of value … in connection with a federal, state, or local election” ± his betrayal of the oath of office has potentially far broader ramifications.

“Sending the signal that other governments can curry favor with a U.S. president by helping to dig up dirt on his or her political opponents would open our political system and foreign policy to intervention and manipulation on a global scale,” said Robert Kagan, a foreign affairs specialist and State Department official during the Reagan administration. “Every government in the world wishing to influence U.S. foreign policy will have an incentive to come to a sitting president with information on his or her potential political opponents.”

Nevertheless, the party loyalists who hug the flag and tout traditional American values are so in thrall to Trump (or simply intimidated) that they claim to see and hear no evil, disgusting some GOP-friendly commentators. Mona Charen, a senior fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, warned that “Republicans who continue to cover for Trump … have abetted the delegitimization of the entire American system.”

That’s not stopping most of them from swilling the Kool-Aid.

Sen. John Kennedy said he didn’t think Trump’s solicitation of foreign dirt on Biden is “as newsworthy as some have argued.” Sen. Lindsey Graham told a conservative radio host he thought Trump “did nothing wrong.” Sen. Marco Rubio didn’t think Trump should have raised the issue of Biden, but also said “that in and of itself is not an impeachable offense.”

But the preferred Republican reaction is silence, to dig the bunker deeper and cover their ears. Since the whistleblower story broke one week ago, it’s particularly noteworthy that we’ve heard virtually nothing from three key Republican senators: Cory Gardner, Martha McSally, and Susan Collins. That trio is on the ballot in 2020, running for re-election in Colorado, Arizona, and Maine, respectively. Colorado and Maine vote blue in presidential elections, and Arizona is trending that way.

Their discomfort is understandable, because they, and many of their colleagues, may soon arrive at the moment of reckoning — an identity crisis forced upon them by the lawless president they have tragically indulged.

Republican strategist Mike Murphy, who believes, based on what we already know, that Trump has likely “committed a vividly impeachable offense,” frames the stakes for his brethren:

“The easy-to-dodge days are coming to an end…Our entire national political debate is now centered squarely upon Trump and his fitness for office. It is a time for clarity … an existential question for every Republican senator and representative: Why am I here? To serve my future or my country?”

Perhaps they should choose the latter. Perhaps they should heed the advice of the Republican senator who declared, back in December 2015, “You know how you make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell.” So said Lindsey Graham. But alas, it may be too late for Trump’s captive minions to redeem themselves.

What’s more important, party or country?

DICK POLMAN, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at Email him at