December 12, 2019 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
To the GOP, Trump’s Illegitimacy May Be an Acceptable Price for Power
The Republican Party's monarchy gap is closing.
There was a time when the Republicans were willing to say, “Yes, OK, all right. The Russians did attack us in 2016. But that doesn’t mean they helped Donald Trump win!” They were willing to accept that the Kremlin mounted a cyber-war against Hillary Clinton, but stopped short of accepting the president was the beneficiary. They stopped short, because accepting that meant conceding to Trump’s illegitimacy.
The difference is quickly eroding.
It’s not that the Republicans have copped to Trump’s illegitimacy. It’s that illegitimacy seems to be an acceptable price to pay for executive power. The Republicans seem only a step or two away from saying out loud that it doesn’t matter that Trump is an illegitimate president because the Democrats are worse than that; it doesn’t matter that Trump commits crimes before our eyes because the Democrats are so much worse. What Trump is actually doing can’t compare to the Democratic Party’s imagined sins.
A Republican king is better than a Democratic president.
To welcome foreign interference, as Trump did in 2016, or to demand it for the next election, as he did this year, is an abuse of power. That’s what the House Democrats are charging him with. But given what the House Republicans said last night during floor debates over two articles of impeachment, abuse of power seems better than the alternative. A president can act like an absolute monarch as long as he’s a Republican.
We’re not quite there in the Senate, but we’re getting close. Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had to resort to baldfaced lying to maintain the gap before the entire party embraces monarchy. In opening remarks Wednesday prior to testimony by the inspector general of the Justice Department, he said yes, the Russians mounted a campaign to move public opinion against Hillary Clinton. As if understanding the implication is that Trump is illegitimate, Graham lied, saying the FBI told her campaign what was happening, and put a stop to it.
That stands in contrast to all available evidence and all public testimony. The Russians waged a quiet cyber-war all the way through the election, and well beyond. Worse, Graham, as a long-time member of the Senate Judiciary, knows the truth. He lied openly and brazenly. But that’s what it took to maintain the GOP’s monarchy gap.
“Appear to maintain” is probably a better way of putting it. Even as Graham was lying about the FBI stopping Russian sabotage, his Senate colleagues were once again blocking bipartisan legislation aimed at preventing another Russian assault.
The Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act of 2019 would, according to Axios, apply sanctions on Russia’s finance, defense and energy sectors if the Kremlin is found to have interfered in a federal election. Given that the Republicans accept as fact that the Russians attacked us, you’d think they’d be on board, but no. Idaho’s Mike Crapo, under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s direction, objected to Chris Van Hollen’s motion to consent. Von Hollen said the bill had nothing to do with Trump. “This has to do with protecting our elections,” he said.
Anything anti-Russia is anti-Trump. Anything pro-Trump is pro-Russia.
But to this president, anything anti-Russia is anti-Trump, because to this president, Crypto-Czar Vladimir Putin had nothing to do with his defeating Hillary Clinton. Given the Senate Republicans won’t do the very least to prevent Russia from repeating 2016, we can conclude reasonably that they agree tacitly with the president: anything anti-Russia is anti-Trump. The inverse, however, must also be true. Anything pro-Trump is pro-Russia. The only thing standing in the way of everyone seeing clearly the Republicans are now the party of monarchy is Lindsey Graham’s baldfaced lying.
I say “monarchy,” but that’s not quite right. I mean our democracy is becoming increasingly illiberal. I mean fascists elements, foreign and domestic, are slowly wedging apart two things most of us thought were the same: democracy and liberal democracy. Perhaps they were, from about 1954, when the US Supreme Court decided Brown v. the Board of Education, until about 2000, when the high court decided who would be the president. (Today, by the way, is the 19th anniversary of Bush v Gore.)
Just as the Republican Party’s monarchy gap is quickly closing, America’s liberal-democracy gap is rapidly widening. Illegitimate authoritarians abuse power, as the kings of old did. That one is not the other may be a distinction without a difference.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.