Opinion writer

Republicans played the “see no evil/hear no evil/speak nothing bad about President Trump” game on Wednesday. The GOP whip, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), hit a new low when he proclaimed that he didn’t see how Michael Cohen’s guilty plea had anything to do with the president. “How does this implicate the president? I don’t think it implicates him at all, especially on the Russia investigation,” he declared. Answer: Cohen implicated the president in open court.

Forget impeachment. Republicans won’t conduct a single hearing on the hush-money payments. They don’t want to know what happened. This is the culmination of 18 months of sniveling and groveling — a display of political cowardice and obsession with retaining power at all costs that we’ve never quite seen on this scale. (Imagine if the Nixon tape came out and Republicans all said, ”I don’t see how a recording of President Nixon agreeing that the CIA should shut down the FBI investigation of Watergate implicates Nixon.”)

In the abstract, I’m sure that Republicans think they’ll just “gut it out,” go back to the voters and hope for the best. But, really, what do they say when asked what Trump would have to do before they would hold a single hearing? (Massive conflicts of interest, emoluments, alleged campaign violations, etc., haven’t provoked them yet.)

If you think this slothful conduct is not going to enrage Democrats and a good many independents or skeptical suburbanite Republicans, think again. The latest Fox News poll already has the Democrats with an 11-point advantage in the generic poll. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has gotten a big boost in approval (now 59 percent/37 percent). On top of that, 75 percent of Democrats are extremely or very enthusiastic about the midterms, compared with 69 percent for Republicans. As they see Republicans making inane excuses for not acting, voters will be raring to replace them with people who don’t view themselves as Trump’s hired help.

Moreover, 24 percent think it’s extremely likely that Mueller will find criminal or impeachable offenses, 16 percent say very likely, and 19 percent say somewhat likely. And in this political climate, Republicans are going to run around screaming, “Witch hunt!” and “Hoax!”? They’re going to annoy an awful lot of voters if they keep denying that they have any responsibility to start looking into possible crimes beyond conspiring with a foreign power.

Let’s look at how this would play even in a state like Texas, which should be a slam dunk for Republicans. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) got more scary poll news recently with yet another survey showing him leading by low single digits (4 percent) over Democratic opponent Rep. Beto O’Rourke. This may be Cruz’s high-water mark. The candidates are scheduled to have at least five debates. What’s Cruz going to say when asked questions like these below?

Why haven’t you called for an investigation into illegal hush money the president allegedly ordered paid to conceal two extramarital affairs?

What penalty do you think is appropriate for campaign-finance violations meant to defraud voters?

Did you make a mistake in confirming a slew of Cabinet-level officials (e.g. Scott Pruitt, Tom Price) implicated in gross ethical violations? What about voting to confirm Rex W. Tillerson, who proved utterly incapable of handling the secretary of state job? Do you plan on ever objecting to a Trump nominee?

What are you prepared to do if Trump fires Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein?

Why have you not rebuked the president for smearing Mueller, his prosecutorial team or the FBI? 

Sure, Cruz could keep insisting that Trump can do no wrong, but at some point, he risks looking like a spineless errand boy. All the Republicans do, and the more Trump sinks into the ethical and legal quicksand, the stronger will be the undertow pulling the GOP down with him.