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Opinion Why Justin Amash stands alone

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) speaks in a House Oversight Committee hearing where Michael Cohen, President Trump's former personal lawyer, testified, in Washington on Feb. 27. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Staunch libertarian Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) on Saturday said — or rather, tweeted — what no other Republican member of Congress has yet had the nerve to utter: President Trump committed impeachable acts that Attorney General William P. Barr tried to downplay by misrepresenting the Mueller report, and Republicans are too partisan to do anything about it and too lazy to even read the report:

“Contrary to Barr’s portrayal, Mueller’s report reveals that President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meet the threshold for impeachment,” Amash said. “In fact, Mueller’s report identifies multiple examples of conduct satisfying all the elements of obstruction of justice, and undoubtedly any person who is not the president of the United States would be indicted based on such evidence.” That judgment is supported by more than 900 former federal prosecutors who have signed onto a letter reaffirming this exact point.

Not surprisingly, Trump punched back at Amash on Sunday, tweeting that Amash is “a loser” and “a total lightweight who opposes me and some of our great Republican ideas and policies just for the sake of getting his name out there through controversy.”

The Post reports: "Republican leaders on Sunday joined Trump in criticizing Amash. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called Amash’s comments “very disturbing.'” The Post said “Amash’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.”

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In his tweets Saturday, Amash’s toughest language was reserved for his peers. “Few members of Congress even read Mueller’s report; their minds were made up based on partisan affiliation—and it showed, with representatives and senators from both parties issuing definitive statements on the 448-page report’s conclusions within just hours of its release,” Amash observed. “America’s institutions depend on officials to uphold both the rules and spirit of our constitutional system even when to do so is personally inconvenient or yields a politically unfavorable outcome. Our Constitution is brilliant and awesome; it deserves a government to match it.”

We can marvel at Amash’s intellectual and moral clarity and applaud his courage. However, he’s just saying indisputable facts and refusing to go along with the scheme to distract voters from the magnitude of Trump’s offenses. Unfortunately, that is what counts for courage these days.

So we return to the question that vexes NeverTrumpers and Democrats: Why are Republicans such quivering sycophants, willing to lie and debase themselves in support of an unpopular president who is repudiating many of the principles they have spent their lives advancing?

I’d suggest there are three distinct groups of Republican grovelers. Some may fall into multiple categories.

First are the cynics who know Trump is unfit, if not dangerous; however, they’ll get what they can (e.g., judges, tax cuts) and bolster their resumes (e.g., working for the administration, getting fawning Fox News coverage). When Trump bottoms out, they’ll move on, probably insisting they were secretly against Trump all along. They consider Republicans who’ve resisted Trump such as the Weekly Standard’s editors and writers, who refused to imbibe the Trump Kool-Aid and in the process lost their publication, to be fools, saps and fusspots upset about a few tweets, dumb lies and crass language. All politicians are rotten, right, so why not grab what you can get?

In the second category are Republicans convinced that they’ll never find work if they speak out against Trump. They’ll lose their offices and/or offend Republican officialdom, including think tanks, right-wing media, donors, party activists and elected officials. (They are part of a right-wing ecosystem; some might call it a racket.) No plum lobbying gigs or Fox contributorships for them. They fear ostracism would ruin them financially and personally, leaving them in a political wilderness from which they fear they’d never return. They, like the cynics, occasionally feel a pang of conscience, especially when NeverTrumpers remind them that there is an alternative to self-debasement. They then will swiftly revert to “But Gorsuch and Kavanaugh” or “But taxes” to justify their moral and intellectual collapse. They’ll whisper behind closed doors that Trump is a menace, but coo and kvell over him when the cameras are on.

And finally, there are the cranks, the zealots, the racists and the haters — a group, it turns out, much larger than many ex-Republicans could ever fathom. This includes not just the overt white nationalists and the tea party crowd but also those who have been simmering with personal resentment against “liberal elites.” Vice President Pence insists he and his fellow evangelical Christians are hapless victims; the children and grandchildren of Dixiecrats fume that everything went downhill in the 1960s. Some of these people will insist they are not racists nor misogynists — but yet they sure seem to have an extraordinarily high tolerance for those who are.

If you eliminate the retirees who couldn’t take it any more (e.g., former U.S. senator from Arizona Jeff Flake), the cynics, the scaredy-cats and the resentful self-made victims, you’re down to a precious few congressional Republicans who will refuse to rationalize (and even praise) whatever Trump does. Only 13 House Republicans and 12 Senate Republicans voted to block Trump’s noxious emergency declaration on the U.S.-Mexico border, which amounted to a repudiation of our constitutional government of separation of powers.

I’d love to think Amash’s statements free and embolden many more Republicans in the House and Senate to step forward.

Is that likely? No.

This is why voters must continue to reject Trump and Trumpism, driving the current crew of Republicans out of office. Only then, like saplings poking up from the ashes of a forest fire, can new, sustainable and decent political life on the right emerge. Unless and until Amash has many, many allies, the voters must do the heavy lifting of ridding ourselves of Trump and Trumpism.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: What Mick Mulvaney tells us about today’s GOP

Walter Dellinger: Democrats’ obsession with redaction is obscuring the obvious: Trump committed high crimes

Max Boot: The GOP’s declaration of moral bankruptcy

Greg Sargent: Trump and Republicans ‘on offense’? Nah. It’s just the same old gaslighting.

Marc A. Thiessen: Trump shouldn’t be forcing Republicans to choose fidelity to him or to the Constitution