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How the GOP Painted Their Party Into a Corner

The cost of ignoring their own slippery slope morality

Phillip T Stephens
Dec 24, 2019 · 7 min read

One of the dominant GOP tropes during impeachment proceedings against Trump was the accusation that the Democrats have wanted to impeach him since before the election. Utah Representative Chris Stewart declared, “This day is about one thing and one thing only. They hate this President. They hate those of us who voted for him. They think we are stupid. They think we made a mistake. They think Hillary Clinton should be the president and they want to fix that.”

Few members of Congress believe those claims, but they make great sound bites, especially when shouted at the volume of Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings. And many voters do believe those claims. The GOP charge overlooks the more accurate observation that some Democrats wanted to impeach the President even before the election. Many Democrats didn’t want to go there, especially those who remembered the bitter impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton.

To confuse a few Democrats with all Democrats constitutes the classic fallacy of composition. The fallacy of composition is the assumption that characteristics of a small group of Democrats describe all Democrats.

It is unquestionably true that some Democrats called for Trump to be removed from office before he even took it. What gets lost in the narrative, however, is why those Democrats called for Trump’s removal. Trump was accused of extra-legal, illegal and arguably unconstitutional conduct even before the election.

To confuse a few Democrats with all Democrats constitutes the classic fallacy of composition. The fallacy of composition is the assumption that characteristics of a small group of Democrats describe all Democrats.

When FBI director James Comey announced they were reopening an investigation into Hillary Clinton, an announcement that many feel contributed to her loss, the FBI was conducting a simultaneous investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and Russia’s election interference. Voters only learned of this investigation after the election.

The double standard incensed a number of Democrats who believed Russian interference also contributed to Clinton’s loss. But Trump had already raised eyebrows when he invited Russia to hack the Democratic servers not only during the campaign, but after his election. The fact that he also bragged on tape about grabbing women by the pussy convinced many Democratic voters that Trump’s legal and ethical conduct was suspect.

These were only teasers for the turmoil that followed. Since he took office more than 30 independent investigations have been launched against Trump, including twelve Congressional inquiries, ten federal investigations and eight by state and local governments. Offenses range from obstruction of justice to money laundering, insurance and tax fraud. Most of them have been lost in the constant Twitter bombardments from the White House, but they still merit concern by all citizens (not just Democrats).

Although many held him at arms length, Republicans rallied around Trump as soon as he claimed the holy grail. Not the Presidency, but defeating Hillary Clinton — the woman who haunted Republican nightmares from the day her husband took office. How could they question the man who delivered the prize?

When Trump was caught in a lie they said take him seriously, not literally. This was a privilege not even afforded God, whose Bible was supposed to be taken (like the word of every President before Trump) seriously and literally. When Trump accused people who displeased him of everything from treason to corrupt intent, Republicans called him a counterpuncher.

When his inability to stay within the lines of the law became abundantly clear, his supporters claimed he was learning the job. If we’re to believe them, he’s still learning and the world’s greatest self-proclaimed genius can’t master the learning curve.

Republicans could have staged an intervention at any of those moments and warned Trump he would be impeached if he didn’t clean up his act. Only former Chief of Staff John Kelley stepped up to the plate.

As soon as Trump took office, the man who was elected on a promise to drain the swamp, brought in a septic truck to fill it to the top. He appointed rich cronies and business leaders who would cater to every anti-regulatory dream of his real constituency — the GOP donors who Trump paid back with a super generous tax break. He appointed such luminaries as Steve Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross, Ryan Zenke, Sonny Perdue, Scott Pruitt, Tom Price, Betsy DeVos and perhaps the most notorious, Alexander Acosta (who negotiated Jeffrey Epstein’s release).

Most of them are gone, but not because they chose to leave. They were chased from office by scandal. Mike Flynn was gone within months for establishing an illegal back channel to Russia while Obama was still President. But his extra-Constitutional efforts weren’t the reason Trump fired him; he was fired because “he lied about it to Pence.”

We might excuse the President for not knowing what one or two associates were up to. But when almost all of them behave as though they’re above the law, many Democrats felt compelled to ask, “who’s setting the example?”

We might excuse the President for not knowing what one or two associates were up to. But when almost all of them behave as though they’re above the law, many Democrats felt compelled to ask, “who’s setting the example?”

Even then few Democrats were calling for Trump’s impeachment, however vocal those critics might have been. So Trump began the long campaign of placing a stick on his shoulder and daring the Democrats to knock it off. These include:

Nor should we forget the many Trump associates sentenced to jail, including Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen, George Papadopoulos, Rick Gates, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone. The investigations continue with inquiries into his own lawyer and Ukrainian associates.

With all that, and a two-year investigation into Russian election interference in which Trump was implicated for accepting help from the Russians and obstructing the investigation that followed, we might think the Democrats would have rallied unanimously to impeach Trump, but half — including Speaker Pelosi — remained willing to let him finish his term and face elections.

The Democrats moved to impeach only when Trump withheld aid that had been legally cleared under Congressional mandate in order to make sure the Ukrainian President announced an investigation, not an an announced investigation into election corruption, but into Joe Biden’s and his son’s alleged participation. Even then they waited until Trump officials, many of whom have since been punished for their cooperation, testified.

The Republican response has not been to admonish Trump even for the appearance of impropriety, but to accuse the Democrats of being out to get him since his election, of conducting witch hunts, and even of crucifying Republican Jesus.

The Republican response has not been to admonish Trump even for the appearance of impropriety, but to accuse the Democrats of being out to get him since his election, of conducting witch hunts, and even of crucifying Republican Jesus.

What they won’t do is look at themselves. The party of Reagan, the party of “just say no” because drugs are a slippery slope, slid down the slope to the most dangerous drug of all — complicity. Or perhaps Trump is a drug. One hit of his pipe of gullibility seems innocent, even brave. Sooner or later, you’re addicted, but, as with many addicts, everyone else is the problem. Not you.

Denial is a river also known as the Potomac

Or perhaps Republicans are mad at themselves for their open denial about the man they crowned as the new face of the GOP. They refused to see what many Democrats could see: In the word of the Chicago Tribune’s Dahleen Glanton, “From the moment he took office, Donald Trump’s impeachment was inevitable. Democrats knew it. Republicans knew it too…No one was “out to get” Trump or to trap him, as Republicans insisted throughout the impeachment hearings. There was no need to. All Democrats had to do was wait. They knew it would only be a matter of time before Trump dug his own hole and buried himself deep inside it.”

”No one was “out to get” Trump or to trap him, as Republicans insisted throughout the impeachment hearings. There was no need to. All Democrats had to do was wait. They knew it would only be a matter of time before Trump dug his own hole and buried himself deep inside it.”

Trump is like the school sociopath, the smart school sociopath. He avoids punishment by selling out his friends. Because he can be so charming (and his parents so influential) he can talk his way out of anything. But every time you let him off the hook, you encourage him even more and one day you will discover you have nothing to threaten him with. He knows you’re going to give him a free pass even if he shoots someone in broad daylight in Central Park.

Had the Republicans just once stood up to Trump as a party they might have avoided the inevitable impeachment. Instead they surrendered their authority (and Congress’) one sliver at a time until there was no authority left to cede. Their only hope now is to stonewall, capitulate, clear Trump once again and hope he will feel obligated to toe the line.

Congressional Republicans, and Trump voters too, forget one thing. Trump has proven time and time again that he feels obligated to no one, especially not the American people. And once he’s secured a second term, he will no longer feel the need to answer to the slender plurality that elected him.

Phillip T. Stephens served as Democratic precinct chair and state delegate, but has since become an independent voter who believes every ballot should include “none of the above.”

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