When Donald Trump began running for president more than four years ago, most Republicans, or at least most Republican leaders, clearly saw him for what he was: in Sen. Lindsey O. Graham’s (R-S.C.) words, “a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot.” Criticism became attenuated as Trump secured the nomination, but then-Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) was willing to call out Trump’s attack on a “Mexican” judge as the “textbook definition of a racist comment,” and dozens of prominent Republicans withdrew their endorsements, at least temporarily, when the notorious “Access Hollywood” tape emerged.
Those scruples have eroded faster than the polar ice cap. In March, after Trump declared a national emergency to spend money on a border wall that Congress had refused to fund, only 13 Republicans in the House and 12 in the Senate voted to defend the Constitution. I described this as a “declaration of moral bankruptcy.” Four months later, that looks like the good ol’ days. On Tuesday, just four House Republicans — plus Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.), now an independent — voted to condemn Trump for telling four congresswomen of color, three of them born in the United States, to “go back” to where they came from.
In addition to the four House Republicans who voted to denounce Trump — Reps. Will Hurd (Tex.), Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Susan Brooks (Ind.) and Fred Upton (Mich.) — only a few others have passed what should be an easy moral test. They include Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, presidential candidate Bill Weld and, surprisingly, former Trump aide Anthony Scaramucci, who called the president’s comments “racist and unacceptable.”
That is the GOP roll of honor — you can count them on two hands. There were, to be sure, a larger number of Republicans lawmakers who criticized Trump’s comments but refused to call them racist or tried to balance out their criticism with attacks on Democrats. By The Post’s tally, of 250 elected Republicans in Congress, only 60 — about 1 in 4 — were willing to rebuke Trump in any form, however mild.
A far larger number — 161 — are too cowardly to say anything at all. “I have a long-standing policy that I don’t comment on tweets,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.). How convenient. But Cruz is an intellectual and moral giant compared to Rep. Mike Kelly (Pa.) who responded: “You know, they talked about people of color. I’m a person of color. I’m white.” Or Rep. Andy Harris (Md.), who suggested that Trump’s tweets were “clearly not racist” because “he could have meant go back to the district they came from — to the neighborhood they came from.” Their reasoning skills make me wonder whether Kelly and Harris are graduates of Trump University.
Some of the “no comments” are downright puzzling. Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) is retiring; what does he have to lose? Former congressman Mark Sanford is thinking of challenging Trump in the primaries. So why does he have no opinion about whether the president is a racist?
And then there is former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, who apparently imagines herself as Trump’s successor. On Sunday, she tweeted about protesters taking down a U.S. flag and raising a Mexican flag at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Colorado. “There are no words for why the Democrats are staying silent on this,” Haley huffed. “If this is your way to winning an election, fire your strategist. This is disgusting. Love your country.” You know what there are truly no words for? Haley’s response to Trump’s tweets. There hasn’t been one.
But at least Haley is not one of the many Republicans — 57 percent of those surveyed by USA Today/Ipsos — who actually supported Trump’s remarks. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) had the gall to not only absolve Trump of racism but to also accuse the members of “the Squad” of being the real racists. Cheney’s chutzpah is matched by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) who complained that “our rules of order and decency were broken,” because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) labeled Trump’s comments — though not the president himself — “racist.” So McCarthy and his fellow Republicans are outraged that anyone would dare to call out the president’s racism. (“This resolution is harassing the president of the United States,” said Rep. Dan Meuser of Pennsylvania.) With the actual racism itself, they have no problem.
The booby prize for moral imbecility is a close contest. I’m tempted to give it to Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) who tweeted like a “love it or leave it” bar-stool blowhard: “Montanans are sick and tired of listening to anti-American, anti-Semite, radical Democrats trash our country and our ideals. This is America. We’re the greatest country in the world. I stand with @realdonaldtrump.”
But, as usual, it’s hard to beat out Graham, who has gone from abhorring Trump’s despicable tirades to amplifying them. Doing his best imitation of Joe McCarthy, Graham said, “Well, we all know that [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] and this crowd are a bunch of communists, they hate Israel, they hate our own country.” There is, in fact, no evidence that Trump’s targets are communists or that they hate America or even Israel. But there is ample evidence that the GOP has suffered a complete moral and intellectual collapse. Here’s all you need to know: These days, “The Mooch” displays more moral clarity than the leaders of the party of Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Reagan.