Not long after Trump was inaugurated, I waited for the resistance — not from liberals, which was immediately made manifest in spectacular fashion across the nation with the Women’s March, but a resistance forming among Republican legislators.
I knew the Trump base was with him regardless, a fact that he intuited during the campaign and declared with swaggering confidence, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
I waited instead for the congressional GOP to begin to apply the brakes, foolishly believing that when push came to shove, country over party would prevail.
I still recall the moment when I realized that the Republicans were all in regarding Trump. I watched the House conservatives vote to overturn the Affordable Care Act and then leave the capitol for the White House, where they stood together with Trump, flush with victory, confident that they had begun what would certainly be the end of ACA. The Senate would surely follow.
It became obvious that the Republicans had made a decision I had not anticipated: They had embraced Trump, even at this early point in his presidency while patterns of tics, tweets and signs of instability were emerging.
What I came to realize, with a measure of disbelief, was that conservatives were intent on protecting Trump while ignoring the rolling scandals and perpetual chaos that defined even the first days and weeks of his presidency. I still found myself asking, along with many in the media, “When will congressional Republicans step forward and do their constitutional duty? When will they develop some backbone?”
Their perpetual silence was at first puzzling. Meanwhile, Trump’s attacks on our institutions escalated, often directed at the Department of Justice (Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein), the FBI and our intelligence agencies.
A special counsel had been appointed to look into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, as well as any possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Initially, Trump was not named as a subject of the investigation. Nevertheless, he declared the nascent probe a “witch hunt” and a “hoax.” And thus began an almost daily attempt to disparage the special counsel, specifically Robert Mueller and his cohort of “Democrat” attorneys and agents.
Throughout this long season of investigations, the Republican leadership remained silent, ignoring calls to check the president. Jeff Flake, retiring Republican senator from Arizona, remarked that his party had made a “Faustian bargain” with Trump.
But it was only recently that I concluded that the GOP “bargain” was not with Trump but with one another. Their cynical promise: remain silent, ignore Trump regardless of his reckless style of governance. Keep him in place and refuse to push back. Shrug at the porno star, the Playboy bunny and the payoffs. Ditto Puerto Rico. Make no comments about Helsinki or the 15 Russians indicted by the special counsel. Remain mystified by Michael Cohen, Trump’s charity or Manafort. Ignore “zero tolerance” and the separation of families at the border or the images of children in cages. Say nothing.
And in return, get a massive tax cut (increasing the nation’s debt by $1 trillion over 10 years) for corporations and the wealthy; cripple the Affordable Care Act; pack the lower courts with conservative judges, adding two conservative judges to the Supreme Court; push for voter suppression via photo IDs, while truncating the Voting Rights Act; withdraw from the Iran deal; jettison the Paris Climate Accord; make asylum and legal entry into the U.S. more difficult; overturn Roe v. Wade and eliminate burdensome regulations, especially those emanating from the EPA.
Actually, their bargain of silence was eminently doable. In truth, the Republicans don’t care about the damage to our democracy or its institutions. The end justifies the means. And if there’s a blue wave, so be it. A lot has been accomplished in two years. Forget integrity or Faustian referents. The Woodward book? Yawn. The anonymous op-ed in the New York Times? Not a problem. Stand with the base, even if it’s on Fifth Avenue.
Chris Honoré is a Daily Tidings columnist.