The GOP’s Lose/Lose Trap

Hugh Hewitt — not someone I usually quote — accidentally said something true this morning. Or, at least, Hewitt’s headline writer wrote something true — If Republicans don’t stand by Trump, they risk losing their base forever

I warn you, don’t read Hewitt’s column if you are feelng the least bit out of sorts. Hewitt’s denial of reality is extraordinary, even by Hewitt standards. He claims no quid pro quo has been established — do keep up, Hugh — and, anyway, there’s nothing wrong with quid pro quos. The Louisiana Purchase was a quid pro quo. Seriously.

But let’s consider the basic claim, that the GOP must stand by Trump or lose the support of its base. Let’s imagine an extraordinary circumstance nobody expects, in which a substantial number of Republicans throw Trump under the bus and remove him from office. Would the base abandon them? I think the 30 percent or so who strongly approve of Trump in poll after poll probably would, yes. I think those people identify with Trump more than they identify with the Republican Party. And that is a substantial portion of the Republican base; more people than actually self-identify as Republican, in fact. And I don’t think they would accept President “Milquetoast Mike” Pence as a substitute.

However, if the Republican Party doesn’t declare some independence from Trump, pretty much everyone else on the planet will abandon them.That 30 percent isn’t enough to keep them in power. It’s lose/lose.

At Washington Monthly, James Bruno writes that Republicans want someone to come and save them from Trump and the trap the Republian Party finds itself in.

Its lawmakers are either enthralled to Trump out of naked fear, or they are waiting for a savior to free them from their servitude to a madman. In the process, they’ve utterly lost their way, and are now unanchored in any coherent ideology. Instead, they are hell-bent on self-destruction.

But, so far, the few who have stuck their necks out to offer themselves as an alternative have been ignored.

Mitt Romney sorta, kinda tried to step into Godot’s shoes, but for some reason, he just doesn’t take. The Utah senator’s recent criticism of the president’s Syria policy and Ukrainegate was not picked up in a major way by his GOP Senate colleagues. Trump responded by calling Romney a “fool.” The one-time GOP presidential nominee seems to realize he is talking into the wind. “I don’t believe I’m leading a wing of the party,” he readily admitted. “Because there’s no wing that’s very large that is aligned with me.”

Apart from Romney, senators John Cornyn and Rob Portman only meekly called into question Trump’s pressuring of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens. On the House side, Francis Rooney  declared that he was open-minded on impeachment. The next day, he announced his retirement.

There’s some heavy-duty pressure going on there.

As many are pointing out today, Republicans have reached the point at which they are sidestepping — or lying about — the allegations against Trump and instead complaining about the process. For example, what’s with the secret hearings?

Well, what about them? Closed-door hearings are entirely within House rules. Republicans have held them in the past. As far as impeachment is concerned, remember that for Nixon the attorney general appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the Watergate conspiracy. That public Senate hearings into Watergate were going on at the same time may have blurred public memory of the more closed investigation. For Clinton, the House didn’t conduct its own investigation but instead relied on the much-leaked work of special prosecutor Ken Starr. Like it says here,

Independent counsel Ken Starr conducted his probe of President Clinton using a grand jury, which by law conducts all its business behind closed doors. In Watergate, special counsel Leon Jaworski also used a grand jury to collect evidence that he eventually transmitted to Congress during its impeachment inquiry. Much of the legal work analyzing the evidence collected by Mr. Jaworski’s prosecutors was done behind closed doors by congressional lawyers.

Several of the key players in Watergate did end up testifying publicly in front of the Senate Watergate committee, but that was a separate investigation from the House impeachment inquiry.

But the Ukraine scandal didn’t inspire Trump’s boy Bill Barr to do anything, so the investigations are being carried out entirely by the House. And the rules say they can be as secret as they wannabe, and can function as a grand jury if they want to. When they get to the step of drawing up articles of impeachment, then it will all go public, at which time Republicans will find some reason to be opposed to public hearings, I assume. But the point is that, as I’m sure you realize, all the complaints about process are bogus.

Miz Lindsey Graham, arguably Trump’s most craven and shameless supporter, has introduced a resolution to the Senate condemning the House hearings as a violation of due process for holding interviews behind closed doors.

The measure calls on the House to hold a floor vote that would formally initiate the impeachment inquiry, provide Trump with “with due process, to include the ability to confront his accusers, call witnesses on his behalf, and have a basic understanding of the accusations against him that would form any basis for impeachment,” according to a summary released by his office.

It also calls on the House to provide members of the minority with the ability “to participate fully in all proceedings and have equal authority to issue subpoenas and other compulsory process.”

I would like to hear expert commentary into why this would or wouldn’t be an extraordinary interference by the Senate of the House’s business. I question whether the House has to give a hoo-haw what the Senate thinks about its procedures. And it seems to me that Graham is calling for the House to skip the grand jury/ investigation phase and go right to the trial phase, thereby stopping the House from investigating. See also Lindsey Graham Introducing Resolution to Permanently Attach Lips to Trump’s Ass by Bess Levin at Vanity Fair.

Charles Pierce:

In one half of the Capitol, citizens lined up solemnly to pay respects to the late Congressman Elijah Cummings, lying in state in a corridor right outside the chamber of the House of Representatives. At the same time, in the other half of the building, increasingly ludicrous White House castrato Senator Lindsey Graham was holding a performative press conference regarding a stupid senatorial resolution condemning the process by which the House was roasting El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago, and if the confluence of those two events doesn’t prove that The Great Whoever has the red ass for humanity, I don’t know what more you need.

Do read Pierce’s entire post. You’ll be glad you did.

10 thoughts on “The GOP’s Lose/Lose Trap

  1. May you live in interesting times. Indeed.

    The Republicons wrote the current House inquiry rules in 2015. Republicons sit in on every committee hearing (some in the parade were, in fact, on committees holding hearings).

    Republicons are panicking! I think they realize that the impeachment is a done deal, awaiting Pelosi to make the timing decision. I think she’ll wait until it is too late for the election apparatus to be manipulated (using the Republicon’s own decision to not hold primaries against them). Once it is sent to the Senate, the Dems in the House can threaten to make everything public if Moscow pulls any funny business. Once the information is out, the 22 Republicon Senators up for re-election (with 20 more in 2022) will be caught between a rock and a hard place!

    Could get interesting with Pelosi at the wheel!

  2. "White House castrato…"


  3. Dan,

    The reason the R's wrote those inquiry rules was that they wanted the "BENGHAZ! BENGHAZI!! BENGHAZI!!!" hearings to be "private," and not "public.". All the better to selectively leak testimony to make Hillary look worse than bad.

    Fully-grown "Deliverance" banjo-pickin' Albino kid, Trey Gowdy, during those "BENGHAZI! BENGHAZI!! BENGHAZI!!!" hearings even said the "private" ones yield far better results.


    Talk about being hung by your own TEAtard!

  4. Josh Marshall talks a bit about the same thing here (behind paywall). I’ll be a bad kid and paste most of it here:

    …It’s not all about voting to impeach or acquit.

    I often hear people say that Republicans always have an easy out whenever they choose to take it: if Trump becomes too radioactive, just cut him loose, move on to Pence and have all the policy goodies they want and none of the constant embarrassment and chaos. That assumption entirely mistakes the current make up of the Republican Party, and, indeed, American politics generally. There is simply no scenario in which the GOP can easily quit the President or do so without driving a major, divisive and lasting wedge through the center of the party.

    Four years ago Will Saletan said the GOP is a failed state and Donald Trump is its warlord. That is still the case, though you’d have to say the deal has worked out pretty well for the GOP so far. But the downsides are simply the flip of the upsides. Trump’s rule has been so durable because despite his unpopularity he maintains the intense support of a large minority of the electorate….

    Since he entered office President Trump has hovered right around 40% approval or one or two points higher. We may speculate that as much as 10% of this number isn’t entirely comfortable with Trump but supports him out of partisan attachment: They’re Republicans. He’s the Republican President. That’s enough. But probably 30% and certainly more than 20% are deeply attached to Trump….but much more for his embodiment of an authoritarian and illiberal worldview both at home and abroad. These voters will have a very hard time forgiving any Republican leaders who turn on Trump and try to drive him from office. He has simply remade the party so thoroughly around an emotive ecosystem of dominance, obedience and betrayal.

    Trump has built his political movement and persona around the politics of grievance and resentment. These are the taproots of the version of American conservatism we now call Trumpism. But Trump embodied and thus sealed and deepened those tendencies in a transformative way. Any partisan would resent politicians who turned on a leader to whom they felt a profound loyalty. But none like pro-Trump diehards.

    The facts of the Ukraine extortion plot seem pretty clear cut. The political fallout is less clear — specifically how firm Trump’s heretofore impregnable wall of GOP defense will remain. It is still unlikely that any substantial number of Republicans will vote to impeach or remove the President from office. But if the scandal continues on its current trajectory, there’s really no scenario in which most Republican senators won’t face a damaging outcome whichever side of the impeachment question they come down on. Voting against the President would in almost all cases remain the most damaging choice — even if a substantial majority of the public believes the President’s actions are indefensible (something a number of Senate Republicans appear to have privately concluded already.)

    In the unlikely event that President Trump is removed from office or compelled to resign, the sense of betrayal and grievance from probably half of Republicans will be intense and long lasting. Late in his presidency Richard Nixon was able to rely on the support of rightwing diehards and the sense of grievance about a liberal establishment ganging up on the President. But Republicans were able to recover internal coherence fairly quickly after Nixon’s fall because to conservatives and the Movement Right, Nixon was never really one of them. That’s very different for Trump. He embodies their politics and he’s governed exclusively in their interest.

    Don’t expect major defections. But that’s not really the question. The real issue is that Republicans are trapped with someone they can’t cut loose.

    My fear, is that when Trump and by extension his supporters get backed into a corner, the guns will come out.

    • Interesting how this decades long movement has led the GOP to a Waterloo of their own making.  Having to deal with a black president accelerated the process to the point where they've become a kind of white identity movement whose "principles" revolve around race, guns and grievances.  Even more interesting is how what they're calling conservatism hasn't delivered any measurable improvement in their lives, and in many ways have made things worse, and yet they're fine just being angry about everyone not like them.

  5. I think it is a category error to judge a Republican like one would a Democrat.

    A good Democrat is reasonable.

    A good Republican (particularly an evangelistic type) is obedient–sort of a pack animal with a big amygdala. 

  6. If you were a Republican in Congress who had a genie and only one wish… it might be that Trump passes away in his sleep. They can't oppose Trump because of the base and will suffer greater and greater defeats as the middle becomes completely disgusted with Trumpism. The only hope not to have a devastating split when Trump loses the election and the base refuses to accept it is if Trump isn't available as the cult idol to the base.

    I wonder who Trump's food taster is?

  7. Miz Lindsey is out on Fox news duping the rubes. He's making the claim that the House vote for articles of impeachment for Trump 'went down in flames', ( Al Green's call for an impeachment back when there were like only 24 people on board) so now the Dems are resorting to 'secret' hearings in an effort to take down Trump. He makes it all sound so nefarious, but if you've been paying attention or open minded you'd know he's just twisting things up to confuse and mislead Trump's low information base.

    It's really strange how if you look at this whole Trump ordeal strategically like what players would represent what pieces if this was a game of chess, Certainly Bill Barr would represent the Queen because he poses the greatest threat in his ability to maneuver and cause the most damage. But if you looked at this whole Trump ordeal from an emotional perspective I think Lindsey Graham be more fitting as Trump's Queen.

  8. Her royal majesty Lindsey Graham is certainly the Queen of Trumpsylvania.  Odd that she is always seen in male attire.  But then she was the one who hysterically announced. when Trump was coming to power,  that the Republican party had gone "bat shit crazy". Knowing full well how Republicans treat women, she has moved in as Queen, and as far as I can tell  and has just gone bat shit crazy with the rest of them.  Though most Queens lead by example and decorum, she has accepted the Queen role with normal Republican notions that such a role need be executed with the manners and attitudes normally ascribed to a cranky scullery maid.  So far she has thusly remained. out from under the bus.  Bill Barr would, by Swami's chess analogy, be the Queen you would protect, as her loss would mean almost certain loss of game, while Queen Lindsey seems much more expendable and thus able to be sacrificed.  None the less, I agree with Swami.  Queen Lindsey it is.  I am not sure a "long live the Queen" is called for at this point.  So enough said.  

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