The morning after my first congressional reelection campaign, I was driving around Pensacola, Fla., collecting signs from supporters’ yards. It was an opportunity to spend time with my dad, who I had always suspected favored my brother over me. But I was confident that the previous night’s victory would make him proud. As we began driving through my neighborhood, the car radio was reporting election results: “And freshman Republican congressman Joe Scarborough breezed to reelection with an impressive 73 percent of the vote.” Turning toward my father in anticipation of some welcome adulation and praise, I found him instead glaring at the radio.
“Who the hell were the other 27 percent?” he bellowed.
Twenty years later, I am asking my father’s question of the party I once represented in Congress. For if it is true that only 40 percent of Republicans believe the United States should remain in NATO, as recent polling indicates, then who exactly are the other 60 percent?
Were they sleepwalking through history while our North Atlantic allies stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States during that long, twilight struggle against Communist Russia? Have they forgotten that during that Cold War, nothing less than the planet’s survival hung in the balance? Or that it was the North Atlantic alliance that pushed back tirelessly against Kremlin thugs who were trying to undermine the Western democracies? Or that American presidents from Harry S. Truman to George H.W. Bush shared NATO’s mission to free 100 million Eastern Europeans from the cruel grip of a regime that enslaved an entire continent and killed tens of millions of its own people?
Are today’s Republicans now so tribal as to blindly endorse a foreign policy warped by President Trump’s obvious allegiance to a former KGB chief who controls Russia through repression, bribery and political assassination and who has called the collapse of that evil empire the “greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century”?
Exactly who are these people, and what have they done with my party? And how could any American support Trump’s tragically weak performance at Helsinki?
What loyal American would embrace a “Putin First” foreign policy that aligns U.S. interests with a Russian dictator’s goals rather than those long championed by America’s military and intelligence communities?
How can any red-blooded Republican not be repulsed by their commander in chief’s blubbering belief that a former Soviet spy’s cynical lies were as compelling as the clear and convincing evidence presented by the U.S. military community, the CIA and his own director of national intelligence?
It strains credulity to believe that any Republican would be so foolish as to defend the diplomatic debacle that led one European newspaper to call the U.S. president “Putin’s Poodle.” Even at home, Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post blasted Trump’s “see-no-evil” approach, and the Wall Street Journal editorialized that Congress needed to develop a containment strategy for both Vladimir Putin and Trump.
If anything can still be shocking three years into Trump’s chaotic political career, it may be that 71 percent of Republicans still support his handling of Russian relations, even after a summit that many considered treasonous.
If he were still alive, my rock-ribbed Republican father would be asking who these 71 percent were, and why they were selling out America’s national security in the name of a hapless reality TV host. But there is no good answer to that question. Further speculation over Trump’s disloyalty to the United States or Republicans’ fealty to their dumpy dupe of a demagogue is best left to political historians and the ongoing investigation of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
But regardless of the verdicts ultimately handed down by historians and the special counsel’s office, the Helsinki summit brought two distressing realities into even sharper focus: The president of the United States is under the thumb of Putin. And the Republican Party he leads no longer deserves to survive.