Alan Zendell, May 30, 2018
It happens over and over again. Republicans in Congress who intend to run for re-election feel inextricably tied to President Trump politically, though many, perhaps most, find his words and behavior despicable. We’ve seen the cycle play itself out several times this year as one after another, they realize they no longer have the stomach to serve this way. Constantly bombarded by high disapproval numbers over Congressional dysfunction and gridlock, it’s not difficult to understand why so many talented professionals would want to return to careers that were more satisfying and productive.
It no longer seems remarkable that the moment they make the decision to leave the Congress their loyalty to Donald Trump evaporates like a wisp of steam. We saw it with Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, among others, and now we see it with Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee. A staunch Tea Party Conservative, Gowdy was no friend of either the Obama Administration or Hillary Clinton. Chairing the House Select Committee on the tragedy in Benghazi, he attacked Clinton relentlessly for more than two years, and even recommended that she be prosecuted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens.
He wasn’t a strong supporter of Donald Trump’s candidacy for President, but ultimately got on board when Trump won the nomination, and he has publicly been a loyal if not vocal supporter of the president. But now that he has decided to leave the Congress, the lawyer and former prosecutor could no longer remain silent about Trump’s unceasing attacks on the FBI, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and the investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election.
Agree with his politics or not, and I don’t, one has to respect his integrity. Once again, a conservative Republican of conscience has come forward to debunk what he sees as the destructive actions of a self-serving president who recognizes no boundaries of decency and seems not to care about the damage he does to our basic institutions to further his own ends.
Gowdy wasted no time in defending the FBI against Trump’s attacks. In a Fox News interview, he said he was “convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got, and that it has nothing to do with Donald Trump.” He further noted that Trump himself said the FBI needed to investigate any possibility that someone in his campaign might have colluded with the Russians.
Gowdy’s remarks on the network Trump loves were a clear repudiation of the president’s claims that the Russia investigation is a witch hunt. They also contradicted the baseless assertion by the president that the FBI had inserted a spy into his campaign to undercut his election. The remarkable thing is that these revelations do nothing to move those red state Republicans in Congress who still have to stand for re-election. Their fear of the mindless devotion of Trump’s base continues to compromise their integrity and prevent them from carrying out their Congressional mandate to serve as a check on excesses by the Executive Branch.
We hear many predictions of a looming constitutional crisis as a direct confrontation between Trump and Mueller approaches. Trump’s recent hiring of Rudy Guiliani as his chief attack dog has only exacerbated the situation, as he freely admits in interview after interview that Trump’s attacks on Mueller and the FBI are purely political appeals to his base. Guiliani dodges questions about any evidence that might support Trump’s attacks, instead explaining that the matter is not a legal proceeding but a direct attempt to influence public sentiment.
In the end, Guiliani concedes, the real issue is whether the president can or will be impeached, and in that arena, laws and rules matter less than approval ratings in red states with House seats up for grabs next November. Guiliani is correct about that, which only makes Trump’s behavior more despicable. As the president has always said, the only thing that matters to him is winning. Not the Constitution, not the integrity of our law enforcement agencies or our Justice Department, and not the protection of our democracy that he has sworn to defend.
This close to the election, it seems unlikely that any Republican who wants to keep his or her seat will speak out against the president, no matter what concerns they may express in private. And that is probably the worst indictment of this president’s behavior. Now it’s up to the voters. Will there be enough of them willing to defeat the Trump sycophants who care more about their careers than the future of the country?
Let’s hope so.