In recent years, the political world has grown accustomed to an amusing, almost theatrical routine. Donald Trump would say something outrageous — on Twitter, in conservative media, at a rally, etc. — and reporters would press Republican officeholders for some kind of reaction. GOP officials would pretend to have no idea what the press was referring to, shrug their shoulders, and scurry away.
Their denials were, of course, wildly insincere, and everyone knew it. But the performance has become a staple of our political lives since January 2017.
This week, however, is qualitatively different. Donald Trump, lashing out at an electorate that’s rejected him, has launched attacks on our democracy in ways without precedent in the American tradition. For his political party to be silent would be tantamount to Republican support for his assault on their country’s electoral system.
To borrow a Reagan line, now is a time for choosing. When the history of this era is written, the record will show who went along with a would-be autocrat’s slander and who stood for the United States.
Republican lawmakers and officials are pushing back against President Donald Trump’s series of false claims Thursday night about the presidential election, although many did not mention him by name.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), for example, told the “Today” show this morning, “I saw the president’s speech last night and it was hard to watch. The president’s charges of large-scale fraud, there’s no evidence here.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) conceded on Twitter that the evidence-free allegations and discredited conspiracy theories are “getting insane.” Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) — who, like Toomey, is retiring — added in a tweet of his own, “A sitting president undermining our political process & questioning the legality of the voices of countless Americans without evidence is not only dangerous & wrong, it undermines the very foundation this nation was built upon.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) was willing to be even more specific about the target of his criticisms: “There is no defense for the President’s comments tonight undermining our Democratic process…. No election or person is more important than our Democracy.”
To be sure, this is not a comprehensive list. There were others, including several former GOP policymakers who now have media roles — New Jersey’s Chris Christie, Pennsylvania’s Rick Santorum, et al. — who made clear that they do not stand with Trump as he attempts to smear his own country’s democracy.
But by any fair measure, given the seriousness of the sitting president’s assault, the list is too short, and it includes too few who were willing to explicitly call out Trump for his dangerous antics. As of this morning, no one from the Republican leadership — in either chamber of Congress — has said a discouraging word about the incumbent’s autocratic efforts, which will only discourage their members from stepping up and speaking out.
Indeed, a New York Times report added, “Members of Mr. Trump’s inner circle sounded almost desperate as they sought to threaten other Republicans into backing Mr. Trump. Both Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump posted messages on Twitter complaining that Republicans were not standing with their father, especially those who may want his support if they run for president in four years.”
It’s a twisted perspective: Trump is lying and trying to stop the votes against him from being counted, and it’s up to Republicans to support him in this endeavor because party loyalty demands it.
It’s a good thing to see a handful of GOP officials balk. It’d be a far better thing if they had more company.