Senate Republicans Make Donald Trump Look Good

Fights over the Supreme Court and Guantanamo Bay are bringing out the worst in the GOP—and that’s really saying something.

02.25.16 5:01 AM ET

When a presidency is winding down we start to think there probably isn’t that much to fight over. Yet here are the Republicans acting like it’s 2009 all over again, and more. These moves on the Supreme Court situation and Guantanamo Bay aren’t just obstructionist. They are certifiably insane.

No hearing for the nominee? Not even a courtesy call? They’ve really gone ’round the bend. Look, there’s hypocrisy to go around on Court stuff. Reverse the situation, and a lot of people saying A now would be saying Not A. I get that. Although I don’t get what in the world that 1992 clip of Joe Biden that everybody’s showing and re-showing has to do with anything. He was speaking hypothetically. There was no nominee. The one time in Biden’s tenure as Judiciary Committee chairman that there was a flesh-and-blood nominee, Anthony Kennedy, the committee and the full Senate passed him through unanimously, and in an election year.

But since you brought up the old days, let’s talk Robert Bork. Bork was a crazy radical extremist. He saw no constitutional justification for the civil rights bill. He also thought states should be free to criminalize the purchase of contraception by married couples. Off the charts, that guy. But he was the president’s choice. The Democrats gave him a hearing.

Say what you want, conservatives, but I feel pretty confident that if the situation were precisely reversed, the Democrats would be going through the process. At the end of the day, a majority of them would presumably vote against a conservative, balance-tilting nominee in a presidential election year. So, you might say, it amounts to the same thing.

No. It doesn’t amount to the same thing. One approach is called respecting the Constitution. The other approach is called taking a shit on the Constitution.

I suppose I could be wrong about what my hypothetical Democrats would do. But I don’t think so. Why? Because the liberal-left base, while certainly ideological and often choleric, just isn’t the same thing as the right-wing base. The right-wing base, led by Limbaugh and all those blowhards, is the reason McConnell said what he said while Scalia’s body was still warm. The liberal groups would not have demanded of Democratic leaders that they just shut the process down.

And if I am wrong about the Democrats, I can 100 percent guarantee you this: I would have written a column calling their behavior shameful. Vote against the person in the end, I’d have written, but for Chrissakes, respect the constitutional process, you bunch of morons. And I think every other prominent liberal columnist I can think of would have done the same. I don’t recall these last few days seeing any of our conservative counterparts calling out the Republicans.

Obama and the Democrats better find a way to make them pay. Nominate an unimpeachably qualified Latino or African American, and let Latinos and/or black voters watch as the GOP stonewalls this person for months, and run 3,000,000 attack ads on ethnic radio stations. (This is the paragraph where conservatives on Twitter will say “There goes that hack Tomasky making everything racial again.” Right. Whereas the guy who wants a brown-shirt police force to go in and break up Latino families, no, he’s not making anything racial. And the party that’s passing law after law to see to it that voting is made as hard as it can be for black people, no, they’re not making anything racial either. Just me. I get it.)

It’s such scandalous behavior. But because it’s them, and it’s all anyone expects out of them, it’s not even scandalous anymore. Which brings us to the Gitmo situation. If anything, this is even worse.

Let me ask you this, reader. Do you have the slightest idea where the nearest supermax prison is to your house? Of course you don’t. Oh, a few of you do—you live in a town where it’s a big employer, your cousin works there, like that. But I’d wager that 98 percent of Americans have no idea where the nearest supermax prison is. There appear to be around 50 (some are wholly supermax, some partly). I bet thousands of people drive past one every day without even knowing it.

And of the 2 percent who do know, do they have any idea who’s in there? How many murderers, rapists, drug kingpins, Bernie Madoffs? Of course they don’t. And the reason they don’t is that the prisoners inside these prisons have zero impact on their lives. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Zacarias Moussaoui, and Mahmud Abuhalima, terrorists all, live in a supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. Do the good people of Florence ever see them? They don’t even see each other. They spend 23 hours a day alone in a cell the size of a typical upstairs-hallway bathroom. And almost nobody ever escapes from these places. You know how your chances of being killed by a terrorist as an American are one in 3.5 million? Well, the odds of you being killed by a terrorist who escaped from a supermax prison have to be considerably longer than even that. Anyone in Florence, Colorado, and environs who sits around worrying that one of these guys is going to come pounding on their screen door is a paranoid lunatic or an idiot.

And that’s what the Republicans want us to be, a nation of paranoid lunatics and idiots, because paranoid lunacy and idiocy tend to benefit the Republican Party at the polls. So this is what we get stuck with. We keep open this facility (Gitmo) that’s notorious around the world—the Arab world and the entire world—that gives America a horrible reputation and whose very existence provides rhetorical fodder for our foes, so we don’t run the “risk” of putting terrorists inside facilities they’ll never get out of and where their movement the rest of their lives will be limited to maybe four rooms.

The Republicans won’t pay any political price for this, because the mere word terrorism turns most Americans into quivering little poltroons. But we as a country pay a price when an argument that is so galactically far removed from objective reality carries the day. And we pay a price when a constitutional norm is flouted and no one even cares because everyone has long since stopped expecting anything more. It’s not easy making Trump look good, but this week, Washington Republicans have pulled it off.