It should surprise no one that the Republican Senate—the most inept collection of politicians in recent memory—will end the Trump era in a state of disarray, discord, and dysfunction.
What Americans have witnessed over the past four years, as I’ve written several times, is a textbook example of political power squandered. Republican senators, rather than maximize the unexpected gift of a Republican White House, Senate, and House of Representatives to advance long-promised “conservative” policies, wasted the opportunity while giving political cover to both the corrupt president who preceded Donald Trump and the one who will succeed him.
The first half of Trump’s presidency was sabotaged by a special counsel investigation into Russian collusion, an imaginary crime that Senate Republicans knew was a farce from the start, yet defended anyway. While Robert Mueller’s partisan probe obscured the real scandal—the unprecedented abuse of the country’s law enforcement and surveillance apparatus to target a rival presidential candidate and then incoming president—Republicans in charge of powerful Senate committees did little more than write stern letters and make empty threats on cable news shows in a failed attempt to “get to the bottom” of Russiagate.
Investigations into the Biden family’s overseas racket were slow-walked; Republicans refused to compel Hunter Biden to testify in the president’s impeachment trial, an event that would have torpedoed Biden’s candidacy and elevated a surefire loser such as Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren to the top of the Democratic presidential ticket.
A once-in-a-generation chance to purge the Beltway of fossilized institutionalists was bypassed. Ditto for major reforms of immigration law, foreign affairs, trade agreements, federal regulations, and climate change activism. The president almost single-handedly retooled failed national policies through executive orders or administrative decree; in most cases, especially related to U.S. military presence abroad, Senate Republicans thwarted rather than aided the Trump Administration.
“Conservative” achievements over the past four years belong solely to the president and his team, not to congressional Republicans.
And when Mitt Romney, the junior Republican senator from Utah and two-time losing Republican presidential candidate, became the first senator in U.S. history to vote to convict a president of his own political party, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did nothing to punish him. When asked by a reporter if McConnell would expel Romney from the Republican conference, something a Democratic leader would do without a second of hesitation, McConnell only said he was “surprised and disappointed” by Romney’s vote.
Senate Republicans made nary a peep as unscientific lockdowns backed by governors of both parties destroyed sectors of the once-thriving U.S. economy, kept kids out of schools for months, and shuttered churches. The alleged party of liberty and freedom prostrated before the altar of pseudoscience and the almighty Dr. Anthony Fauci.
But McConnell’s surrender caucus underperformed, even in comparison to the lowest of metrics, in recent weeks as they “begged” (a word they’ve actually, and embarrassingly, used in text messages soliciting donations) Republican voters in Georgia to keep them in charge for two more years.
A so-called COVID-19 relief bill included hundreds of billions in giveaways to Democratic constituencies including teachers’ unions, college administrators, and climate activists. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) defended tens of billions in handouts to other countries, turning a deaf ear to the suffering of millions of Americans bankrupted by government-imposed lockdown orders.
When the president demanded a $2,000 per person stimulus check instead of the $600 per person compromise reached by congressional Republicans and Democrats, McConnell refused to hear it.
The Senate voted to override the president’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act, a $740 billion behemoth that Trump wanted to use as a vehicle to repeal Section 230, another pledge that Senate Republicans failed to fulfill. (When asked over the weekend if she would have voted to override the president’s veto, Kelly Loeffler, one of the candidates facing a run-off in Georgia this week, refused to answer.)
And as evidence piled up that officials in several states broke election laws to help Biden win, Senate Republicans were silent. A select group of House Republicans, once again, showed spine by demanding investigations and joining a lawsuit filed by the Texas Attorney General that detailed mail-in ballot fraud in four key states, but invertebrate Senate Republicans, once again, looked the other way. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) finally held a public hearing into “election irregularities” on December 16—better than nothing, but effectively it accomplished nothing.
Now, after undoubtedly getting an earful from their constituents, a dozen Republican senators are attempting a last-minute play to salvage their reputations and mollify the party’s infuriated base. Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and others plan to reject certifying the election results on January 6 unless a full audit is conducted.
“We have an obligation to protect the integrity of the democratic system,” Cruz told Fox Business News’ Maria Bartiromo over the weekend. The group wants Congress to appoint a special commission to perform the audit over the next 10 days. “We have an obligation to the voters and an obligation to the Constitution to ensure this election was lawful.”
The move prompted caterwauling from the usual suspects. Romney claimed the whole thing was “nonsense”; one of the party’s most nakedly ambitious politicians accused his Republican colleagues of choosing ambition “over principle.”
Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), fresh off her reelection, said she wouldn’t support Cruz and company. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who for years dodged his own promises to bring accountability to Russigate perpetrators, called Cruz’s demand a “political dodge” and expressed doubt about evidence of vote fraud.
Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a NeverTrumper who wrote in Mike Pence’s name for president and just won reelection despite a nonexistent record of accomplishment in the U.S. Senate, denied all evidence of rampant election fraud in swing states in a lengthy Facebook rant.
“All the clever arguments and rhetorical gymnastics in the world won’t change the fact that this January 6th effort is designed to disenfranchise millions of Americans simply because they voted for someone in a different party,” Sasse lectured on December 30. “We ought to be better than that. If we normalize this, we’re going to turn American politics into a Hatfields and McCoys endless blood feud—a house hopelessly divided.”
According to Sasse, Romney, Collins, and others, the real tragedy is not how county election workers manipulated absentee ballots or how unelected bureaucrats in key states blatantly violated state election laws to help Biden win; no, the real tragedy is a president, backed by 75 million American voters, dares to again gum up the corrupt political machinery bent on grinding him (and his supporters) down at any cost.
Trump, in the messy way that is admittedly part of his political brand, is left to fight the powers-that-be alone, recognizing that this battle isn’t just about him but about the fate and future of the country as a whole.
As for Cruz and his compatriots, their counterattack is too little, too late. The Senate should have shut down all other business from November 3 on and held one hearing after another on election irregularities and illegalities in the disputed states, demanding action from the Justice Department and state lawmakers. Threats to reject certification should have been made several weeks ago, not a few days before Congress is scheduled to certify the Electoral College vote.
But just like so many other instances over the past four years, Senate Republicans cowered and caved; Trump has had to do all the dirty work so craven Republicans could keep their own hands clean.
And this is what should be rewarded with Republican victories in Georgia?
A fitting coda to such a dismal stretch of Republican treachery should be for McConnell to lose the Senate. Romney and his NeverTrump caucus should pay a price. Their final acts of betrayal not to Trump but to Republican voters must have consequences.
If they won’t stand against a rigged presidential election, they certainly won’t stand against Joe Biden and the Democrats.
Let’s hope they all earn a much-deserved demotion this week.