Petersen: Moderate Republicans Have Failed to Stand Up to Trump

Flickr user: DonkeyHotey

By Josh Petersen, Digital Managing Editor


To put it mildly, we are at a particularly alarming moment of a particularly alarming presidency. On Aug. 21, Paul Manafort, the former chairman of the Trump campaign, was found guilty of financial fraud. This includes a failure to disclose his involvement with a pro-Russia political group in Ukraine. On the same day, Michael Cohen, the President’s former lawyer, admitted that he paid two women to keep quiet about their affairs with President Trump — under the direction of the President himself. This is the most direct evidence to date that President Trump committed a federal crime.

Anyone who was willing to help Trump get elected is probably not a paragon of moral decency — as Alexandra Petri points out in her funny piece for the Washington Post, these were not the “best people” after all. The corruption of Trump’s inner-circle is horrifying, but not particularly surprising. It is the response he’s received from Republican citizens and politicians that is most disheartening — and consequential.

So far, the response from such Republicans has been pathetically weak. Even moderate politicians from less conservative areas have been unwilling to even hint at possible consequences. Utah’s retiring senator, Orrin Hatch said, “Trump is a much better person today than when he was elected.” Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who both voted against repealing the Affordable Care Act, have not indicated any concern about the Manafort conviction or the Cohen plea deal. Sen. Collins voted to confirm the Supreme Court nominee of a President under investigation for serious crimes.

Now more than ever, we need politicians who are willing to challenge President Trump and the corruption of his administration. While some Democrats have risen to the challenge, many remain uncertain of how to proceed. They are still bruised from 2016 and worry that strongly anti-Trump messaging could backfire. Even if the Democratic Party did have a united front against the Administration, their effectiveness has been limited — that is, until they won back the House on Nov. 6. Time will tell what they do with their newfound power. However, the country would most greatly benefit from Republican officials willing to effectively defy the President and his most ardent supporters.

Too many of our elected officials are walking out instead of speaking up. An unusually high number of Republicans retired in 2018 — websites like FiveThirtyEight and The Atlantic have even begun to track every person leaving Congress. The trickle of Republican retirements may seem like resistance. President Trump is certainly a large factor in this trend — many congressmen were suddenly a lot more interested in spending time with their families after Jan. 20, 2017. The reality is, retiring in the middle of the Trump presidency is an act of cowardice. Two prominent senators who retired this November — Bob Corker and Jeff Flake — have been some of the most vocal critics of President Trump within the Republican Party. They are clearly disappointed in both Trump and their party’s embrace of him. Yet by leaving at this critical time, they are denying themselves the opportunity to better their party and their country.

Corker and Flake probably wouldn’t have been able to single-handedly change the tide of the Republican Party, but an active, unified resistance could certainly leave an impact. Without the pressures of reelection, they could publicly call for Congressional hearings concerning Trump’s possible violations of campaign finance laws. Their current silence speaks volumes, and after keeping the Senate this November, it will likely continue. While Trump and his associates are to blame for their dishonest behavior, the systemic support of his campaign and presidency could damage the nation for decades to come. If all centrist Republicans are unwilling to govern through a uniquely turbulent time in American history, we all will pay the price. Extreme partisans, alt-right cronies and Trump apologists are all that’s left of the most powerful political party in the nation.

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