Jeff Flake is at it again. The former Arizona GOP senator, famous for criticizing Donald Trump and then blowing town rather than staying and fighting, had an oped in The Washington Post over the weekend challenging his former colleagues: “My simple test for all of us: What if President Barack Obama had engaged in precisely the same behavior? I know the answer to that question with certainty, and so do you. You would have understood with striking clarity the threat it posed, and you would have known exactly what to do.”
Though my admiration for Flake has its limits because he threw in the towel, he’s dead right about his former colleagues. Of course they’d be howling at the moon if Obama had done the same thing.
But about his most widely quoted assertion, made not in this column but earlier, that if the vote to convict were private he thinks 30 GOP senators would choose to remove Trump, I think he’s dead wrong. These people are crazies or cowards or both, and they’re as locked into Trump at this point as those brainwashed soldiers in The Manchurian Candidate were to Raymond Shaw. Except these senator-soldiers weren’t brainwashed by the North Koreans. They’ve brainwashed themselves.
It now appears there may not even be a trial, or there’ll be one and it will last about an hour before every single Republican votes to acquit Trump. Some will do so proudly and stand there and lecture us about the Constitution even as they take a piss on it (Lindsey Graham); some will run for the elevators (Susan Collins). And most will just hop on the Senate subway back to their office and relative obscurity. How’s Jim Risch going to vote? John Barrasso? Mike Braun? John Hoeven? Who cares?
Nobody knows what these people—again, the vast majority of Republican senators—think. I could go to their websites and look, but I don’t care enough even to do that. I know all I need to know. They’re from deep-red states where their rank and file is consumed with MAGAism, and they’re not about to take any chances. Some of them may be true believers, some just invertebrates, but it amounts to the same thing.
Meanwhile, the evidence against Trump just keeps piling up, not that it matters. Last Friday evening, the Center for Public Integrity got a bunch of documents from the Pentagon that it sought through the Freedom of Information Act and that a judge ordered released. (Side note: It’s in times like these that we see the immense value of an organization like the Center for Public Integrity and a law like the FOIA law, which are both in their way products of the post-Nixon push for reform and transparency; let’s hope there’s a similar post-Trump flood of foundation money into such projects.)
The documents show that some administration officials worried that holding up the aid to Ukraine wasn’t just a bad idea, but an illegal one: a violation of a federal law that prohibited presidents from refusing to carry out the will of Congress (in this case, foreign aid passed by both houses). The law dates to the 1970s and was passed because Congress’ will was continually being thwarted by, you guessed it, Richard Nixon.
The documents also show that barely an hour-and-a-half after Trump hung up from the infamous phone call with Vlodomyr Zelensky, a White House aide was ordering the Pentagon to put a hold on the Ukraine money. Ninety minutes. This aide, Michael Duffey, was one of many Trump officials who was subpoenaed to testify before the House last month and just blew it off. His boss at OMB, Russell Vought, tweeted at the time that neither he nor Duffey would testify. Hashtag #shamprocess. Dear Leader must be so proud.
Flake’s assertion about the secret ballot assumes the existence of a conscience and principle among these people that just is not there. They have an obvious duty under the Constitution to defend the prerogatives of their branch of government. The chief executive thwarted their will with respect to Ukraine aid, to the point of breaking the law to do it. As members of the Article I branch, the legislature, they’re supposed to give a shit about this. But they don’t. All they care about is polishing Trump’s, uh, shoes.
Christmas approaches, the day of the birth of (one often hears it said) the only perfect man who ever walked the face of the earth. They didn’t have telephones in his day, but if they had, maybe he could have made a perfect phone call. Donald Trump sure couldn’t, and didn’t, and all these sycophants acting like he did are humiliating themselves and the nation.
Meanwhile, speaking of Jesus Christ, what do we suppose he’d make of a quick tour of the U.S.-Mexico border, where the temperatures dipped below freezing last week and families—children, babies—are sleeping in tents with no heat? (This is on the Mexican side, but they’re being held there because of the massive and intentional backup on the U.S. side.) Or of the white supremacist who sits in the White House (Stephen Miller, not Trump, but him too) orchestrating this cruelty?
And Republicans on Capitol Hill, men and women who purport to worship and love this Jesus, are able to ignore it all. Crazies or cowards? It hardly matters.