January 27, 2020 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
With Bolton’s Book, Republicans Realize They May Have Neutered Themselves for Nothing
Any dog will tell you once it's done, there's no going back.
I argued last week the Senate Republicans neutered themselves when they voted down amendments creating procedures worthy of “the world’s greatest deliberative body.”
All 53 decided against issuing new subpoenas, entering to new evidence and calling for new witnesses. They decided against accountability, transparency and due process.
As a consequence, they created a kangaroo court mocking separation of powers. As a result, they revealed themselves, as one Twitter follower put it, to be “a party of moral relativism, ethical nihilism and legal sophism.” Or, to put it more simply, fascism.
At what point does avoiding political death cause it?
Neutering themselves was the price for loyalty to a president facing the prospect of removal from office. That probably felt like a good trade-off, even for “moderate” senators in bluish-reddish states facing reelection this year. At the very least, standing with Donald Trump, and acquitting him, meant their heads would not be on pikes.
But loyalty to a lying, thieving, philandering sadist was always risky. Turns out the White House knew the Republicans’ carefully planned rationales for defending a criminal president would blow up. The administration knew it was a matter of time before a book by a former Trump official would make fools and knaves of them all.
What’s done is done, though.
Any dog will tell you once neutered, there’s no going back.
The Times reported the contents of a forthcoming book by John Bolton. In it, the former head of the National Security Council says yup, Trump totally bribed Ukraine to gain advantage at home. He withheld hundreds of millions to aid that country’s war against Russia in exchange for investigations into Trump’s top domestic rival.
Importantly, Trump’s bribery demanded Ukrainian officials turn over “all materials they had about the Russia investigation that related to Mr. Biden and supporters of Mrs. [Hillary] Clinton in Ukraine,” per the Times. This is new. More in a moment.
Copies of Bolton’s manuscript had been sent to the White House for standard vetting of classified information. But here’s the thing: the president’s press office didn’t know about the existence of Bolton’s manuscript until it was too late, according to Axios.
While it’s plausible incompetence is creating headaches for the GOP, it’s equally plausible corrupt motives are in play. Given everything we know about how hard this White House worked to cover up Trump’s bribery, it stands to reason it work just as hard to ensure no one saw Bolton’s book until the Republicans acquitted the president.
Why are the Senate Republicans putting their political lives on the line for a president so ready to betray them? I don’t know. Perhaps the Republicans don’t either. For their own sake, they’d better figure it out. The drip-drip-drip of bad news will continue through Election Day. It’s shrewd to fear a party leader threatening to put your head on a pike. At what point, however, does avoiding such a fate end up causing it?
Republicans like Lindsey Graham have nothing to fear, however. The South Carolina senator has threatened, in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to open an investigation into Joe Biden and his only living son. Ukraine is awash in corruption, but even that was too much for Ukraine. Not so for Lindsey Graham.
Which brings me back to the Times report.
Up to now, our understanding has been the president held up military aid to Ukraine in exchange for a public announcement of sham investigations. State Department officials testified the announcement was the deliverable. Whether it actually investigated was beside the point. But Bolton says Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s attorney, wanted Ukraine to turn over “all materials they had about the Russia investigation that related to” Biden and Clinton. That new detail is meaningful for two reasons.
One, Trump’s conspiracy theory in which the Ukrainians, not the Russians, undermined our sovereignty in 2016 is not just a conspiracy theory. It is a willful and knowing effort on the part of the president and his confederates to erase the past and replace it with a “new history” in which Trump is the original victim and ultimate hero in a battle with evil Democrats in league with evil Ukrainians attacking the US of A.
Two, Graham, in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is positioned to receive “all materials they had about the Russia investigation that related to” Biden and Clinton. He is positioned, in other words, to deepen and widen the force of the president’s lies using the power of an investigation by the United States Senate.
The Republicans neutered themselves.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.
It isn’t for nothing — if we face head-on what Republicans are after.
The right has been plotting for at least 50 years (and possibly since FDR) to turn the United States into an authoritarian, theocratic, plutocratic, kleptocratic nation. But until Trump, they’ve (mostly) done so slowly and quietly. Trump inspires such devotion in the base that he has given the GOP a chance to achieve escape velocity, to leave the gravity well of liberal, representative democracy behind completely. He’s rocket fuel.
To use a framing from behavioral economics: Think in terms of *expected value.* The odds of this gambit succeeding might seem perplexingly low, given the risks. But the possible *value* of success for the GOP and its funders and enablers is astronomically high. Lowish odds x super-high expected value = take the risk. Add in sunk costs and loss aversion, and here we are.
Since this is a day for the defense of Trump, allow me to point out a positive about Trump. This is from an opinion piece in the Kyiv post (English language version):
“While Trump shares quite a few personality traits with Stalin and Hitler — notably, supreme narcissistic self-confidence wedded to considerable ignorance and combined with suspicion of expertise and intellect, as well as vanity, vengefulness and utter lack of empathy for other human beings — he is not a homicidal maniac, unlike the other two.”
Note the positive: “He is not a homicidal maniac.” Clearly Trump’s defense team should make this the centerpiece of their defense, and enough for the republican senators to acquit him.
This is the funniest thing I’ve read all day.