Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.), one of the best-liked members of the House, announced his retirement last week in a searing letter that deserves more attention than it has gotten. “The countless hours I have spent in the investigation of Russian election interference and the impeachment inquiry have rendered my soul weary,” he wrote. “I will never understand how some of my colleagues, in many ways good people, could ignore or deny the President’s unrelenting attack on a free press, his vicious character assassination of anyone who disagreed with him, and his demonstrably very distant relationship with the truth.”

I, too, am soul-weary and incredulous that so many Republicans who are “in many ways good people” could become imitators and enablers of the most dishonest and corrupt president in U.S. history. I’m not talking about crazy conspiracy-mongers like Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) or Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). Given their intellect and character, you can’t expect anything better from them. I’m not even thinking of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who is smarter but just as unprincipled. What I find crushing is how many normal, mainstream Republicans who know better have sold out to President Trump.

The paradigmatic case is, of course, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R.-S.C.), who once upon a time accurately denounced Trump as a “race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot.” Now “Lickspittle Lindsey” will not even look at the copious evidence against Trump because he claims the impeachment process is “a bunch of B.S.” Another notorious example is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who warned that Trump would turn out to be an authoritarian leader. Now he will not even protect State Department employees from character assassination by Trump’s henchmen. I met both Graham and Pompeo in the pre-Trump era (which now seems as distant as the Paleozoic era) and I am still shellshocked by their transformation. It’s as if their brains have been scooped out and replaced with Trumpian mush.

With his barrage of complaints against the media, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) is threatening to overturn the governing culture of a landmark Supreme Court case. (The Washington Post)

I must be an awful judge of character because there’s a whole lot else I didn’t see coming. I didn’t anticipate Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), a scion of the Republican establishment, referring to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) by the same racist slur that Trump uses. Obviously Trumpism is contagious. Cheney doesn’t seem to care that Trump is unwinding the internationalist foreign policy that she and her father always championed — at least not enough to stop making excuses for him. She somehow manages to blame his betrayal of the Kurds on … the Democrats for daring to impeach him!

Nor did I anticipate the transformation of Woody Johnson, the New York Jets owner who first supported Jeb Bush in the Republican primary. Last year, as Trump’s ambassador to Britain, Johnson fired the well-respected deputy chief of mission for daring to mention President Barack Obama in a speech, Julia Ioffe reports in GQ. Yet another example of how Trump’s courtiers come to resemble their master.

Then there is Nikki Haley. I have written that “she acquitted herself admirably” as ambassador to the United Nations because she managed to keep her distance from Trump; she was much tougher on Russia than the president is. But now, perhaps hoping to supplant Mike Pence as vice president, she seems intent on erasing any impression that she might be any better than her erstwhile boss. “In every instance I dealt with him, he was truthful, he listened and he was great to work with,” Haley told NBC in reference to a president who has uttered more than 13,000 falsehoods while in office. She has also parroted the White House spin on impeachment, which she calls “a distraction from what the American people really care about.” (Would that be toilets — a subject on which Trump had a lot to say on Friday?)

Worst of all, Haley has emerged as a born-again defender of the Confederate battle flag. She told Glenn Beck (another Never Trumper turned Always Trumper) that mass murderer Dylann Roof had “hijacked” an emblem that before 2015 had stood for “service, sacrifice and heritage.” Umm, the Confederate flag has always stood for white supremacy, because that’s what the Confederacy was fighting for. Anyone who isn’t a graduate of Trump University should know that. By pretending not to possess such elementary knowledge, Haley appears intent on undoing the credit she received for taking down the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina statehouse grounds. Why would she do that? Perhaps because Trump loves “beautiful” Confederate monuments.

The Republican Party’s born-again Trumpers are not only morally obtuse but also politically myopic. They might judge their transformation to be necessary to survive in today’s political environment (although why a multibillionaire like Woody Johnson should kowtow to a poorer president remains a mystery). But sooner or later Trump will be consigned to the ash heap of history. In the future, a Republican who dared to stand up to Trump might turn out to be a more marketable commodity than all of the Trump mini-mes who now flatter and fawn over a president who will be remembered as only the third occupant of his office to be impeached.

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