The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The GOP doesn’t have to impeach Trump. But it also doesn’t have to nominate him.

President Trump at the White House on Monday. (Alex Brandon/AP)

I get that Republicans are too cowardly to impeach President Trump — or even criticize him. But are they really proud to have him represent their party in 2020? And, if not, why don’t they nominate someone else who is not an ethical and intellectual abomination?

Those questions were salient before special counsel Robert S. Mueller III submitted his report. They are even more urgent now, because, contrary to the propagandistic White House narrative, Mueller did not “clear” Trump. He found unseemly contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, and he found that Trump attempted to obstruct justice.

But leave aside the important question of whether the president broke the law. (Spoiler alert: he did.) The republic must have a higher standard for its president — and the Republican Party for its nominee — than merely whether it can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he has committed any felonies. As now-Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said in 1999 when he was a member of the House, “You don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic.”

Former Democratic presidential candidate calls for Congress to be "deliberate, fair and fearless." (Video: Danielle Kunitz, Kate Woodsome, Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)

Obvious illegality aside, the Mueller report makes a strong case for why Trump should lose his job.

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Trump doesn’t put America first. The report uncovered “Russian offers of assistance to the Campaign” and found that “in some instances, the Campaign was receptive to the offer.” The report also says “that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.” The New York Times reports that Trump is still uninterested in stopping future Russian attacks. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, said on Tuesday that the investigation of the Russian attack was worse than the attack itself, and his lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, said on Sunday: “There’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.” Actually, there’s a lot wrong with it — not only is it against the law , but it is also against the president’s oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.” No doubt Trump would see the problems with putting self-promotion above patriotism if the Iranians hacked his campaign and shared the results with Joe Biden.

Trump is either a terrible judge of character or — more likely — deliberately surrounds himself with terrible characters. After enumerating at least 140 contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian nationals, WikiLeaks and their intermediaries, Mueller reports that his investigators “did not find evidence likely to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Campaign officials such as Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, and Carter Page acted as agents of the Russian government — or at its direction, control, or request — during the relevant time period.” Note the qualifiers: “beyond a reasonable doubt,” “relevant time period.” It suggests that members of Trump’s campaign may have acted as Russian agents at other times. True, Page and Papadopoulos were low-level advisers, but Manafort was the campaign chairman. And then there was Michael Flynn, who was selected as national security adviser despite his undisclosed lobbying work for the Turkish government and his secret contacts with the Russian ambassador, which he later lied about to the FBI.

Trump is so incompetent and unethical that his aides routinely ignore his directives because they know it would be illegal to carry them out. Time after time, Trump was saved from a constitutional crisis that could have consumed his presidency because, as Mueller notes, “the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.” On June 19, 2017, for instance, Trump asked his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski , to tell Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Lewandowski refused to deliver this message. If Lewandowski — a political thug who has been accused of grabbing a female reporter, inappropriately touching a singer, getting into a physical altercation with the White House chief of staff and mocking a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome — is more ethical and prudent than the president of the United States . . . well, that tells you everything you need to know about the president.

The evidence presented by Mueller of the president’s lack of fitness is supported by what we can see every day. Just look at Trump’s response to the Mueller report. He curses in public, calling statements in the report “total bull---t ,” even though they were made under oath and Trump himself refuses to testify under penalty of perjury. He denigrates Mueller and his team, calling them “Trump Haters and Angry Democrats,” even as he paradoxically claims they exonerated him. And he continues to spread deranged conspiracy theories, tweeting that “the ‘other side’ . . . illegally created the diversionary & criminal event and even spied on my campaign.”

Republicans who don’t wince at Trump’s conduct are beyond the reach of reason or shame. I assume there are still some Republicans, however, who retain a vestige of self-respect and critical thinking. They need to understand that they have a choice. Bill Weld — who is seeking the nomination — wouldn’t act like this. Neither would Gov. Larry Hogan (Md.) or former Ohio governor John Kasich, who might join the race. Or even Vice President Pence, who would probably run if Trump withdrew. It’s possible to advance a conservative agenda without accepting as your standard-bearer a man who daily disgraces the office of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan.

Read more:

Hugh Hewitt: The Mueller investigation is still over

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Democrats should tread carefully on impeaching Trump

Dana Milbank: Mueller’s findings: Too stupid to conspire. Too incompetent to obstruct.

Eugene Robinson: Democrats must seize and define this moment. Otherwise, Trump will.