As extraordinary new revelations of Donald Trump’s corruption continue to pour forth, an intriguing tension has developed around the former president’s role in Republican politics. On the one hand, it’s becoming clearer that as we learn more, those revelations will only get worse.

But even as this is happening, Trump is exerting even more gravitational pull on GOP primaries in numerous states. In various ways, Trump’s legacy is shaping the candidates’ strategies at exactly the moment when he is growing more volatile and his legacy is becoming more unpredictable.

Yet, this also imposes additional obligations on Democrats. They have both self-interested reasons for doubling down on efforts to hold him accountable (casting light on continued GOP fealty to Trump could help electorally) and public-spirited ones (the public is entitled to the full truth about the Trump years, especially if he is to remain a large presence in our political life).

Shockingly, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is now downplaying the news that Trump’s Justice Department sought the phone records of two leading Democratic foes, potentially in retaliation against them. McConnell is resisting any congressional investigation, laughably warning of a “partisan circus.”

In continuing to protect Trump, McConnell appears at least partly motivated by a desire to keep Trump from erupting at Republicans. Trump is emerging as an incredibly unstable force in Senate GOP primaries, whose outcome will shape whether Republicans capture the upper chamber.

Trump is a destabilizing force

This is taking many forms. Trump shook up two primaries when he endorsed the Senate candidacies of GOP Reps. Ted Budd in North Carolina and Mo Brooks in Alabama. In both these cases, the other Republican candidates are remaining in the race.

But as CNN reports in a remarkable piece, the GOP candidates who had the terrible misfortune of not earning Trump’s endorsement are working overtime to cast themselves as the real Trump-aligned candidates in whatever way they can. One candidate in North Carolina, remarkably, illustrated this by talking about how his daughters wept over Trump’s 2020 loss.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, the sham election “audit,” loudly championed by Trump, is forcing some candidates into contortions. Attorney General Mark Brnovich is trying to avoid being associated with the audit while humoring GOP voters’ belief that the election was stolen from Trump.

A Democrat sent over some TV and digital ads running in Senate GOP primaries that show Trump’s influence. One ad in Ohio faults a potential GOP rival candidate over his ancient tweets daring to question the former president. Another ad in Pennsylvania similarly bashes a GOP rival for daring to suggest five years ago that Trump should release his tax returns.

Incredibly, a candidate for Senate in Arizona ran an ad demagoguing undocumented immigrants hundreds of miles away in New Jersey because Trump was vacationing there, and he apparently wanted Trump to see it.

Obviously it’s not unusual for primary candidates to align themselves with a popular figure in their party, and Trump is far and away the most popular one in the GOP. What’s odd, however, is that this comes amid worsening revelations of Trump’s corruption.

We just learned, for instance, that Trump went to extraordinary lengths to corrupt the Justice Department into helping him subvert the election. It’s likely that those revelations will get worse as Democrats keep investigating them.

All this is compelling GOP leaders into an odd balancing act. As Josh Kraushaar reports, some Republicans worry that Trump’s volatility, his endorsement of extremist candidates and his prioritization of himself over the party is already harming their chances of winning the Senate.

Yet Trump’s popularity with the GOP base also requires them to avoid triggering (as it were) his rage. So even as new revelations gush forth, GOP leaders must bend over backward to help him cover them up.

Thus it is that McConnell dismissed the new revelations about the Justice Department targeting Democrats. This comes after virtually all GOP senators voted against a bipartisan commission to examine a violent mob attack, incited by Trump, on their own place of work.

Yet all this places obligations on Democrats, too. But it’s not clear they’re up to the challenge.

Will Democrats step up?

Even as President Biden meets with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, blithely announced that Democrats were no longer trying to access hotly sought records of Trump’s private conversations with Putin.

“The Biden administration is looking forward, not back,” Meeks said.

That’s a remarkably terrible justification for failing to seek a full accounting into the Trump years. Indeed, as Brian Beutler notes, with Trump still retaining a reasonable shot at the 2024 presidential nomination, Democrats have both a self-interested reason and an overwhelming obligation to the public to undertake a full fumigation.

As it happens, this is also the excuse some Justice Department officials are offering for helping to keep under wraps other key documents involving Trump. Those include his tax returns and the memo detailing the department’s supposed rationale for not charging Trump with criminal obstruction of justice in the Russia scandal.

Here’s the bottom line: Even as the Trump cancer continues to metastasize in our political life, neither of the two parties, each for its own reasons, is willing to do what it will truly take to excise it.

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