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Thursday, February 6, 2020
Welcome To The Imperial Presidency
Sometimes you can know what’s coming and still be disappointed at the outcome. That was the case yesterday with the Senate’s votes to acquit President Trump. There was really never any serious doubt that the Senate would allow the president to keep his job yet there was always the hope that Republicans would rise to the occasion and do their civic duty in removing a man who has repeatedly shown that he cannot be trusted with power. Of course, that didn’t happen.
Even though several Republicans admitted that Donald Trump had done what he was accused of doing, only Utah Senator Mitt Romney dared to break ranks and vote to convict the president. For that, Mr. Romney is of course not being thanked for objectively upholding the rule of law and acting to restrain an abuse of presidential power, but rather is being attacked for what Republican partisans see as traitorous behavior.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is representative of the Republicans who acknowledge Trump’s bad behavior yet voted to acquit him anyway. In his statement explaining his vote against calling witnesses, Alexander said, “There is no need for more evidence to conclude that the president withheld United States aid, at least in part, to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens; the House managers have proved this with what they call a ‘mountain of overwhelming evidence.’”
“It was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation,” Lamar continued. “When elected officials inappropriately interfere with such investigations, it undermines the principle of equal justice under the law.”
Nevertheless, Alexander and the other Republicans argue that the Senate has no power to remove a president for such an abuse of power, a statement that flies in the face of the original intent of the Founders.
“I believe that the Constitution provides that the people should make that decision in the presidential election that begins in Iowa on Monday,” Alexander said.
Alexander and the other Republicans also reject punishment of the president short of removal. The Tennessee senator also failed to support a resolution of censure floated by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.).
Yet, despite their handwringing over Trump’s “inappropriate” actions and their professed belief that the people rather than the Senate should decide whether to remove the president, Alexander and the other Republicans support Donald Trump’s re-election.
“Whatever you think of his behavior,” Alexander told the New York Times, “With the terrific economy, with conservative judges, with fewer regulations, you add in there an inappropriate call with the president of Ukraine, and you decide if you prefer him or Elizabeth Warren.”
At least he’s not Elizabeth Warren.
To put it succinctly, the Republican position on Trump is that the president does bad things but he should not be removed or even punished a little bit for his behavior. The people should decide the president’s fate and the people should send him back to Washington where he can engage in more bad behavior over the next four years.
I have no doubt that if the positions were reversed and Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren had done what Trump has done, Republicans would have no problem overcoming their aversion to partisan impeachments and their belief that the people should decide the president’s fate. For that matter, I’m equally certain that the Democrats would suddenly become proponents of executive privilege and limited congressional authority.
The difference between the two is that I expected more from the Republicans. As a lifelong Republican until 2016, I identified as a member of that party because of its adherence to objective principles that were not dependent upon who occupied the Oval Office. Among those principles were the ideas of equal application of the law, limited governmental authority under the Constitution, and the belief that good government requires good character in its officials. Such notions now seem quaint in the new Republican Party.
Over the past few years, I’ve watched Republicans shift from promising to hold Donald Trump’s feet to the fire to making excuses for him as he flouts not only conventional behavior but the law as well. Earlier this week at the State of the Union, Republicans gave an ovation to the President who proposed a laundry list of big government items that would have gotten him denounced as a RINO in the Republican Party of yesteryear. Instead, Republicans now celebrate big government from the right.
Hunter Baker at The Federalist admits as much outright. “In essence, the president told Americans that he agrees with Democrats that we need a big, energetic government, but not their kind of big, energetic government.”
And that is the new Republican Party in a nutshell. It is okay with big government as long as it isn’t the left’s version of big government. It is okay with government corruption as long as it isn’t a corrupt Democrat. It is okay with government overreach as long as the overreach is for something that the Republican base wants.
With the Democrats having long ago embraced the politics of the end justifying the means, the Republicans were our last hope at maintaining a limited, constitutional government. Now that Republicans have abandoned the idea of impartially resisting the growth of executive power, it seems unlikely that there will be any serious limitation on a president as long as he has a majority to back him.
The Democrats will find Trump’s precedents helpful when they return to power, as they certainly will one day.