After the firing of former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe late Friday night and a flurry of tweets from Trump against special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on Sunday, Maggie Haberman of the New York Times tweeted, “Trump has always seen what he can get away with, and when there are no lasting consequences, he presses on further.” Trump’s limit-testing of the GOP and its leadership — and their cowardly ways in the face of it — is nothing new. Trump learned years ago that there would be no consequences for whatever he did, no matter how low.
It all started with Trump’s embrace of the racist birther lie against President Barack Obama. Joshua Green points this out in his book “Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency.”
Trump, who has an uncanny ability to read an audience, intuited in the spring of 2011 that the birther calumny could help him forge a powerful connection with party activists. He also figured out that the norms forbidding such behavior were not inviolable rules that carried a harsh penalty but rather sentiments of a nobler, bygone era, gossamer-thin and needlessly adhered to by politicians who lacked his willingness to defy them. He could violate them with impunity and pay no price for it — in fact, he discovered, Republican voters thrilled to his provocations and rewarded him. …Privately, what amused him the most, he later told a friend, was that no party official in a position of power dared to stand up to him. In his first nationally televised interview, on C-SPAN, the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, was confronted about Trump’s possible candidacy and his birther attacks on Obama. “Is the birther debate good for the party?” Jeff Zeleny, a reporter for the New York Times, asked him. “I think all these guys are credible,” Priebus replied, looking slightly nauseated. “I mean, I think it’s up to the primary voters to decide that. I mean, obviously, people are going to have different opinions. And, you know, you’re going to have a lot of different candidates that are running, they’re gonna talk about different things at different times. … I think having a diversity of opinion is fine.”The lesson Trump took away was that the party gatekeepers, who were privately appalled at his behavior and did not want him in the race, would pose no threat to him at all if he decided to run.
The key line from that block quote to fully appreciate the emboldened president now threatening the man investigating his campaign is “no party official in a position of power dared to stand up to him.” So, once again, the powerful Republican-controlled congressional “leadership” who might stand a chance of reining Trump in are relatively mute.
The party that lambasted liberals for supposed insufficient support of law enforcement looks the other way as the Republican president wages a scorched-earth war against the FBI and the Justice Department. The party that branded un-American anyone not showing sufficient skepticism and distrust of Russia finds no outrage over Trump’s many unheard-of overtures to its president Vladimir Putin, including revealing highly classified intelligence in the Oval Office. Sure, Congress passed a tough sanctions bill. One that Trump has failed to fully enforce. And don’t get me started on the monumental hypocrisy throughout conservative America over Trump’s entanglements, legal and otherwise, with Stormy Daniels.
I grew up under two terms of President Ronald Reagan and one term of President George H.W. Bush. I was an adult during the two terms of President George W. Bush. During those 20 years, the Republican Party stood for law and order, family values and fiscal restraint. Under Trump, with the full cooperation and complicity of mute “leaders” such as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), those days are over. When the history of our nation during this awful period is written, the GOP should be dragged and shamed for its part in it.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj
Subscribe to Cape Up, Jonathan Capehart’s weekly podcast