Richard Cohen: Trump has stripped the GOP of its dignity
The Republican Party has a communicable disease. It has been intimate for so long with Donald Trump that it acts pretty much as he does. He lies and then Republicans lie about his lies—they don't matter, just noise, the wall is more important, etc.. These evasions are intended to suggest that moral squalor can be cleansed by a jump in the Dow Jones or a handshake with Kim Jong Un. The months of Trump have taken a toll. The GOP has been stripped of its dignity and honor by a president who has neither.
A new kind of McCarthyism has emerged. It is not the one named for that bullying fraud, the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. This new one takes its name from Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader from California. He has traveled the country on behalf of Republican House candidates, name-dropping the ultimate name as a credential. "I developed a relationship with the president long before he was president and so you have a trust level," The Wall Street Journal quotes him as saying. Maybe. But does McCarthy have a "trust level" in Trump's judgment, honesty, competence, knowledge and—dare we say it—stability? If McCarthy does, it is a Guinness-worthy confession of idiocy.
McCarthy wants to succeed Paul Ryan as speaker, and he might if the GOP keeps its majority and meanies to his right do not deprive him of the necessary votes. If that happens, he'd stand second in succession to the presidency—right behind the mannequin with the bobbing head posing as Mike Pence. Yet McCarthy not only failed to protest when the president asked his attorney general to investigate who wrote an anonymous op-ed in The New York Times, he called the writer a "subversive" who should be "exposed and fired." Has the president never heard of the First Amendment? Has McCarthy?
The title of the 1966 movie "What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?" stemmed from a question the producer-director Blake Edwards' son had asked him. A similar question has to be asked of Republican officeholders by their own children: What did you do to stop Trump?
What, daddy or mommy, did you do to insist on presidential honesty? Did you just look away, and cowardly maintain that Trump's behavior—his intellectual, political and spiritual corruption—was beside the point? And when, daddy or mommy, did you condemn his lies or not shake the hand of a man who dissed John McCain's heroism? Did you demand that the president account for his bizarre relationship with Vladimir Putin or his insidious attempt to cow the press? Did you confront him for suggesting that the indictment of two Republican congressmen should have been delayed until after the midterm elections? Tell me, mom and dad, did you ever sing Dylan when you were a kid: "... how many times can a man turn his head/Pretending he just doesn't see?" Look, our freedoms are blowin' in the wind.
The most shocking thing about Bob Woodward's new book, "Fear," is that the appalling no longer shocks. There's not a member of Congress who does not know the truth of Woodward's depiction of Trump as out of control and, in a way, out of his mind—downright dangerous. The revelations were of degree, but not of kind. The feeble act of faux heroism on the part of former adviser Gary Cohn—he swiped documents off Trump's desk—deserves a mock medal. Where was Cohn's denunciation of Trump when he left the White House? Where were his harrowing details, anecdotes—anything? Silence.
Barack Obama last week took the Republican Party to task. "These are extraordinary times. And they're dangerous times," he said at the University of Illinois. The GOP is "abdicating" its responsibilities, he added. Obama is a gifted speaker, and this was one of his better speeches. But it was no partisan broadside. It was, instead, a lament, a reluctant commentary on how the GOP has morally collapsed.
By now, we have all become inured to Trump and his antics. We know he's a liar—some 4,713 false or misleading claims since his inauguration, according to The Washington Post's Fact Checker database. The consequence is that lying has become normalized, like killing in a time of war. Trump has infected much of the Republican Party. The lie has become its First Principle—and there is no second. The GOP is diseased, in the tertiary stage of moral cowardice. It may never recover.