A couple of news cycles ago – back when The New York Times reported that Donald Trump had ordered the firing of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller in June, 2017 -- a friend of BTRTN texted us, asking if we shared his belief that there was truly something different about this shocking revelation. Surely, he noted urgently, surely even the Republicans will be outraged at this news.
Nah, we replied. Don’t think so.
This week it was the release of the Devin Nunes memo, a one-sided attempt to discredit the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Mueller investigation, and provide Donald Trump with a thin reed of rationale should he decide to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Nope, we concluded. We’re not seeing any Republican soul-searching over this one, either.
Perhaps we’ve been singed once too often for assuming that the President’s previous egregiously bigoted comments, overt deceits, and anti-constitutional bloviating would give Republicans pause, but with Trump’s approval rating cast in iron at 40%, there appears to be no outrage that will outrage Republicans.
However, there is now an inevitable pattern that follows each newsbreak about the Russia investigation and in that pattern we see an appalling abdication of responsibility that can no longer be ignored. For all the fireworks, bluster, and counterpunching from Team Trump, there also a conspicuous and shameful silence of complicity.
Here’s how that pattern seems to work. Whenever a new bombshell explodes, Trump turns on to his TV to Fox and waits patiently for Sean Hannity to tell him what he should think and say about it. Early the next morning, he is on his twitter feed to assault the revelation as “fake news.” He then sets himself to the task of cooking up a distraction to dilute the coverage. This is followed by a slanderous counter-charge which he offers as evidence of a conspiracy by liberals embedded in a “deep state” that is plotting to destroy his Presidency.
In short order, Fox and Friends rapidly falls in line, amplifying the President’s accusations and racing to spin or manufacture “evidence” that allegedly supports the President’s charges.
Red State red-meat Trump surrogates take to the airways to explain why the shocking revelation related to the Mueller investigation is really nothing new, nothing that the people aren’t already aware of, and that the American people have spoken and they want this biased witch hunt to end. They just want to build a wall to keep out those (fill in the most hated minority in the surrogate’s district here). After two minutes of laser tag, the belligerent surrogate interrupts Wolf Blitzer and shoves a sharp spike up his nose. Do you want to know what the American people want to talk about, Wolf? The American people want to talk about the missing FBI texts … the Clinton emails… Benghazi… they want to know why the FBI isn’t investigating the death of Vince Foster, Wolf. That’s what the people want, Wolf.
Here’s the funny thing. With seemingly every Republican in Washington angling for just a sliver of golden Fox air time, reporters on all sides inevitably must search high and low for the most powerful Republicans in the Senate and the House, the Republican Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
When big news hits, Mitch McConnell seems to be secretly navigating the underground heating tunnels beneath the Senate Office Building in an effort to make it from the Republican Caucus Room to his office without having a microphone shoved under his nose.
And it seems that every time a major story breaks, Paul Ryan is finally tracked down hours later at a meet-and-greet at a Wisconsin Velveeta factory, where breathless reporters finally catch him and ask him to weigh in. His response is inevitably pablum. “I just heard about the new allegation in the Washington Post, and of course I have no way of knowing if this report is true,” he might say. “But if the substance of the allegation is true, then let’s just say that this kind of thing – you know, it’s just not helpful.” With that innocuous quote safely on the record, he races for the door. “Excuse me… these good folks are here to talk about cheese…”
Yes, other than Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are supposedly the two most powerful government officials in the nation, and both appear to be about as essential to the national dialog as Rosenkrantz and Gildenstern. They are as integral to the functioning of our democracy as the Cleveland Browns are to the Super Bowl.
Fairness requires that we acknowledge that McConnell and Ryan are the legislative heads of a party that no longer exists. McConnell and Ryan were elevated to their current positions back when people like John McCain and Mitt Romney led the Republican Party. Donald Trump rose to power on a tsunami of resentment for the federal government, the Washington establishment, and the one-percenters on Wall Street. Ryan and McConnell knew that they weren’t best buddies with Donald Trump, but they failed to grasp that his legions considered them the enemy.
After the election, Ryan and McConnell seem to have been too coy by half, standing on the sidelines and smugly assuming that Trump would inevitably implode due to the physics of popular approval. With each new gaffe, outrage, and potential criminal act, they figured, his approval number would contract until it triggered a molten runaway burn in the core. Then we would supposedly see an unstoppable Fukushima Daiichi-grade meltdown, at which point it would be finally safe for centrist Republicans to emerge from their cave and publicly abandon Donald Trump.
Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan decided to play it safe. Never bother to shoot somebody, they figured, who is in the process of committing suicide.
So they never once bothered to call Trump on his bullshit. They never stood up on the outsized soap boxes they command as leaders of the two houses of Congress and told the American people when the President of the United States was acting at odds with his sworn oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. They did not raise their voices when the President of the United States was debasing our principles, and degrading our reputation in the world. These two men – who each claim to be a staunch defender of the vital institutions they lead – abdicated when the choice came down to defending the institutions of the nation or protecting their own jobs.
Oh, sure, you’ll find a minor spat here or a vague milquetoast pooh-poohing there, mostly delivered in a counter-tenor octave. But not once have you witnessed a principled, weapons-grade confrontation. No “you are wrong to be degrading the institutions of our democracy, Mr. President.” Not once.
Ryan and McConnell thought they could duck and come out of hiding when Trump had self-immolated, so they stood by when Trump fired Comey. They did not condemn him when he taunted Kim Jong-un, praised tyrants, and insulted our allies. Not when Trump found “many sides” at blame in Charlottesville. Not after the fake Muslim video retweets. Not when he labelled every negative news report about him as “fake news.” Not when he called African nations “shitholes.”
And now, they stand silent when Donald Trump publicly bludgeons the reputation and integrity of the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the CIA.
Far from speaking out to defend these institutions, Paul Ryan is just another cabana boy carrying Trump’s water. On Tuesday morning, Ryan faced tough questioning about the Nunes memo, and he attempted to delicately parse his response so as to not contradict or anger Trump. And when he was asked point blank whether he agreed with Trump’s contention that the Nunes memo “vindicated” him, Paul Ryan abruptly ended the press conference and walked away without answering the question.
Here’s the irony. The very failure of institutionalist Republican leaders to publicly disown and condemn Trump’s most egregious actions may well have contributed to Trump’s approval rating to calcifying at 40%. The 40% who currently approve of Trump have long since dismissed CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the entire Democratic Party. The only way that these people would ever even be the least bit open and receptive to a negative message about Trump is if it were to be delivered by a major Republican leader that they respected.
But there’s the Catch 22: Trump’s approval ratings will not fall any further unless major Republican leaders condemn his actions. But Republican leaders are convinced that it is not safe to condemn Trump’s actions until his approval ratings fall below a far lower threshold.
So the very people who possibly could have influenced Trump’s approval rating were afraid to criticize him. And now the cement has hardened and it will take something on the order of Katrina, non-existent WMD, or a nuclear apocalypse on the Korean peninsula to crack that 40% now.
With no Republican leaders challenging Trump on his words and actions, Trump’s narrative became the only Republican story. Republicans believe Trump’s assertion that there is a “deep state” out to undermine his presidency, because Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell don’t have the guts to stand up and loudly dismiss it as bullshit. Republicans believe that the FBI is corrupt and biased because Ryan and McConnell don’t have the balls to defend them.
Plain and simple: if McConnell and Ryan had been leading – truly guided by their oath to the constitution and forever placing nation above party – they would have called Trump out every time he attempted to undermine our rule of law.
Because they did not, they are now subservient to him and totally wed to his 40% approval rating. It is a number that is too low for what the party needs in November, but too high to dismiss and abandon. Trump is now their problem… and they lack the power to do anything about it.
Moreover, McConnell and Ryan are no longer problems for Trump. They have been “fixed,” in the manner that a cat is “fixed.” They can hardly stand up now and announce that they were against Trump all along.
There’s a new term entering the vernacular, which I heard for the first time from a brilliant young Ph. D. candidate who is studying American History. He told me that the likes of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are now being referred to as the “Vichy Republicans.”
Is there any person of character, courage, and principle in the Republican Party today who will play the role of Victor Laszlo in this movie, and inspire the Vichy Republicans to sing "La Marseillaise" in front of Major Strasser?
Is there any Republican who is willing to stand up and say that destroying the FBI to save Donald Trump is a devil’s bargain?
Once upon a time, great men and women who held high office in this nation had principles and beliefs that were more important to them than clinging to their position and their power. They were men and women who thought that allegiance to the United States of America was more important that political party, retaining political power, or maintaining personal stature.
Now all we have is Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan cowardly sucking up to Donald Trump.
Now all we have is the shame of the "Vichy Republicans."
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