You might have thought, if you were from Ulaanbaatar and didn’t have internet and didn’t know anything about these people, that the Republicans would have responded to credible allegations that their leader was a vain and clueless idiot by signaling, however subtly and slyly, that they understood the gravity of the situation.
Or even if they didn’t want to do that, at least have hidden for a few days. Try not to draw attention to themselves or their embarrassing president.
But you don’t live in Ulaanbaatar and you do have internet and you know these people all too well, so you know just what they’ve done.
First, the Republican National Committee mocked up a fake cover of Michael Wolff’s book with quotes from other journalists questioning Wolff’s grasp of certain facts, changing the title from “Fire and Fury” to “Liar and Phony.”
Last Friday, the office of Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, one of the few Republicans who’s actually had the stones from time to time to opine somewhat honestly about the clothes-less emperor, announced that Corker would be joining Trump today as the president travels to his state to speak in Nashville to a convention of the Farm Bureau. Yes, this is customary, a senator from the president’s party accepting an invite to hop on Air Force One for a trip to his state. Still, it’s striking that one of Trump’s most prominent intra-party critics—who is also by the way a leading Republican recipient of Trumpian abuse, a man the president said with his usual taste for the most obvious cliché “couldn’t get elected dog catcher”—is going along for the ride at this particular moment.
But the biggest move of all, also last Friday, came when GOP Sens. Charles Grassley and Lindsey Graham referred British intelligence officer Christopher Steele for criminal investigation. They said it was not about “the veracity of claims” in the famous and much-disputed (by Republicans) Steele dossier and “is not intended to be an allegation of a crime.” Well, then what exactly is it intended to be?
As it happens, I have some ideas. First of all, it’s intended to assure Dear Leader that he is loved, that his leadership is still “exquisite.” Because, it’s clearly emerging, that Republican job number one in this warped era is telling Trump how great he is.
Second, it sets up an obstacle to the possibility of Steele coming to the United States to testify at a public hearing or a trial. Or it might, depending on how things play out, do the exact opposite and set up an extradition fight between the United States and the United Kingdom. That is, suppose one day House Republicans want Steele to testify—want to grill him. Now, maybe the U.K. would refuse to send him. That would be a lovely development in the history of the “special relationship.”
Third, it sends a signal to Robert Mueller and his team. We’re playing a very serious game of hardball here, it says. If your final report leans too heavily on the Steele dossier, we will move heaven and earth to rip it, him, and you to shreds.
Fourth, it gives Fox something to bang on about for a while; from last Friday forward, “journalists” can note whenever Steele’s name comes up that is he “under investigation.”
It’s a staggering move. Think about it. Trump is being killed in the press on Wolff-book coverage. Republicans sit around and think, what can we do to push back? And they come up with this. Turn the story back on the other side.
I admit, I give them points for creativity. If Watergate happened today, Republicans would get to work digging up dirt on Frank Wills, the Watergate security guard who that summer night in 1972 discovered that strange piece of duct tape over the door lock to the Democratic National Committee headquarters. After all, he was a high school dropout, and black to boot. Imagine what Fox could have done with that. It’s not for nothing that John Dean said last week that if Fox had existed during Watergate, Nixon might have survived.
I haven’t read Wolff’s book yet. I’m getting it probably today. But I’ve known his work, and him, for years. It’s quite possible he got some small stuff wrong. But it’s very likely he got the big stuff right. Republicans know this. That anecdote about Trump asking why Medicare couldn’t just cover everybody? Of course they know very well that that’s 100 percent plausible. It’s kind of touching, that one. It shows Trump in a rare moment of normalcy, because that is precisely what any normal person, sitting through explanations for the first time in his life about our convoluted health care system, would ask.
I hope I don’t sound like a broken record (how much longer can we use that metaphor, anyway?), but I’ll say it again: The central question of this era is when Republicans will acknowledge that the president is a dangerous and dangerously uninformed and dangerously immature person who has no business whatsoever sitting in the Oval Office.
The Wolff episode provides an answer. It’ll be a long, long time.