The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump’s ‘tapes’ tweet is too much. Hasn’t the GOP had enough?

Since President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on May 9, the explanations for the dismissal have been getting murkier. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

President Trump tweeted this morning, “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” One doesn’t know if this is a threat or another bit of bluster. Congress should immediately issue a subpoena for all tapes of presidential conversations, just to be on the safe side. The sheer bizarreness of his tweet will, for those not immune to Trump’s lunacy, reintroduce questions about his mental stability. One wonders when, if ever, Republicans will declare they’ve had enough.

The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol remarks to me, “I think there is movement among Hill Republicans, for now mostly in private and behind the scenes. And then, I think (and history suggests), the dam will break suddenly.” One hopes that is right, but outwardly, the Republicans by and large continue to support Trump and defend his nonsense.

The 2016 election demonstrated that the party once united by political thought (e.g., smaller government, objective truth, respect for tradition, the rule of law) and respect for civic virtue would accept a thoughtless, entirely unscrupulous leader for the sake of holding power. (“Sure, he’s totally ignorant about the world, but we’ll get the Supreme Court.” “Well, he’s obviously lying about a bunch of issues, but he’ll sign whatever the House gives him.“) En masse, most Republicans — including those at some premier publications (which are now unreadable to all but the Trump cultists) — declared willingness to defend ignorance, bigotry, dishonesty and ineptitude on the chance that they’d get a top marginal tax rate of 28 percent. The calculation, to those not driven by partisan zeal, seems shockingly small-minded and tribalistic. (At least Hillary Clinton’s not there to raise taxes!) One marvels at other trades they’d make. (Lose an independent judiciary for sake of a meaningless and offensive travel ban?)

Republican Party identification has begun requiring intellectual vacuity. One has to be free from shame to agree that it’s no big deal when Trump confesses he fired former FBI director James B. Comey because he decided Russian interference in the election was “just a made-up story.” A slew of FBI agents is now investigating the “made-up story,” the entire intelligence community verifies it and members of both parties acknowledge that it occurred. To go along with such utterances means condoning Trump’s inability to accept reality (Russia did, in fact, meddle) and refusing to concede that pressuring and then firing the FBI director must be impeachable, if not criminal, conduct. This mind-set forces Trump defenders to say daft things such as: Trump has the right to fire Comey, so what’s the problem? Democrats didn’t like Comey, anyway. It doesn’t matter that he gave a pretextual answer for the firing.

Our incredulity does not concern Trump’s buffoonish performances. We’re not surprised in the least that the president thinks he’s entitled to shut down an investigation if he doesn’t like the way his political opponents are utilizing evidence to attack him. We expected nothing less and warned fellow Republicans that this was what they were buying into.

No, we remain incredulous that so many seemingly mature conservatives are going along with this, even now when his political utility to the party is so slight. (It’s not as though he’s capable of delivering on campaign promises or leading the party to victories in 2018.) We’re not talking about Sean Hannity or Tucker Carlson, but, in this context, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the majority of 2016 presidential candidates, right-wing think tankers, too many right-leaning pundits, etc. Have they truly lost their intellectual bearings, or are they so cynical as to conclude that sticking with the “tribe” is better than simple truth-telling?

We’re hoping that the dam breaks quickly, before more harm comes to the republic. The GOP, however, may be irreparably broken.