None of this should come as a surprise. In February, Congressman Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, warned the Senate at the end of the President’s impeachment trial
: “We must say enough—enough! He has betrayed our national security, and he will do so again. He has compromised our elections, and he will do so again. You will not change him. You cannot constrain him. He is who he is. Truth matters little to him. What’s right matters even less, and decency matters not at all.”
Confronted with all of the testimony and evidence as to how Trump abused presidential power, Senate Republicans didn’t take Rep. Schiff up on his warning. With the exception of Sen. Mitt Romney, who voted to convict Trump
, the rest of the party stood by the President. Sen. Susan Collins assured voters that “I believe that the President has learned from this case. The President has been impeached. That’s a pretty big lesson.”
By now it should be clear that the only lesson President Trump learned from the impeachment process was that almost every elected Republican would support him regardless of what he did. He could use public policy for his self-interest, he could intimidate opponents and spread disinformation, and, yes, he could threaten our democratic institutions.
When President Trump took steps that were a dangerous use of presidential power
—spreading false information about Covid-19 and other issues, dangling foreign aid as leverage for his personal interest. (He denies that was his intent.) failing to clearly separate his business concerns and his role as President
and making supportive messages to White extremist groups
, the GOP did not do a thing. Indeed, even now some elected officials, such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have openly stood by Trump’s efforts to attack the election results.
Republicans have offered a number of excuses for their silence. According to Sen. McConnell
, “We’re going to have an orderly transfer from this administration to the next one, what we all say about it is, frankly, irrelevant.”
The GOP will own this moment for decades to come. When historians look back to understand what happened when the incumbent president recklessly attempted to overturn an election in the middle of a devastating pandemic, where every day of the transition counts in terms of saving lives and moving us back to normal, they will see that most of the party didn’t do anything. It’s the story of the Trump presidency.
As I argued in “Burning Down the House,” the Republican pursuit of partisan power has come to overwhelm the basic concerns for governance and the health of institutions. President Trump has exposed a party that is willing to abandon all guardrails in its effort to preserve the ability to push through court picks, deregulation and tax cuts. There is no effort from Republicans to hold the President accountable.
Right now, presidential power runs amok — in ways that are fundamentally different than what we have seen from Democratic and Republican predecessors — and the GOP cooperates. The party that allegedly hates big government sits by as the President wields virtually unlimited power against the nation’s citizens.
The party won’t be able to shake this legacy easily. There is no going back to normal after what we have seen and there can’t be Republicans who say that the party itself is fundamentally different from what President Trump offered the nation. He is the Republican Party, and they stand with him.
The only saving grace is that so far state officials are not playing along. After its recount, Georgia certified the election results. “Numbers don’t lie
,” said state Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. On Friday, the state’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp signed the paperwork that officially grants the state’s 16 electoral votes to President-elect Joe Biden.
And following their meeting with the President Friday, a group of seven Michigan Republicans
announced that they learned nothing that would alter the election outcome, meaning Biden beat Trump. The math also is preventing small challenges from impacting the overall victory for Biden.
There is no going back. Even when this anti-democratic campaign fails, the fact that it happened and the fact that one of our major parties allowed it to happen, is what matters the most.
The only way to begin a reformation of the party would be for Republicans to take a stand now. They are the party that can put the brakes on this runaway President. While Senators Romney, Ben Sasse, and Lamar Alexander have called for a transition to the Biden presidency to begin
, this is not enough. The party needs to acknowledge the Biden presidency, they need to denounce President Trump’s actions and, yes, they need to threaten action if he doesn’t stop this right away.
Given the record, don’t bet on it. Stopping Trump will require action from Democrats, the courts and state legislatures who still believe that our democratic institutions are worth preserving.