When Donald Trump became a credible political figure in the run-up to the 2016 election a lot of Republicans tried to distance themselves from him. For months the line was that he wasn't really a Republican. He didn't believe in Republican principles and policies, so he couldn't be. Some Republicans I know even claimed he was actually a Democrat conducting some sort of false flag operation or something. Imagine.
Their opposition to Trump was ineffective, of course. Trump won the Republican nomination and won the presidency. Almost immediately thereafter basically every single Republican official and the vast majority of the Republican Party gave Trump their full support in every way that truly matters. Oh, they claim they oppose him, but they don't in any practical or concrete way.
In reality, they have chosen to ride the Trump tiger to get the tax cuts, deregulation and activist conservative judges they wanted, while doing whatever they could to protect the GOP brand in the process. They disclaim responsibility for Trump's worst excesses -- his corruption, his recklessness and, in many cases, his evil -- but that disclaimer of responsibility has been wholly unconvincing. It amounts to little more than superficially turning up their nose at Trump's worst excesses while, simultaneously, doing absolutely nothing to rein him in or to exercise oversight, all the while pushing back against anyone who suggested they actually should.
This week Republicans' performative -- and only performative -- opposition to Donald Trump reached new depths.
On Tuesday, excerpts from Bob Woodward's new book revealed that White House officials remove papers and letters from Trump's desk so that he does not see them and, on some occasions, even go so far as to countermand Trump's orders. Yesterday the New York Times ran an op-ed from an anonymous Trump administration official who claimed to be actively working to “frustrate” President Trump’s “worst inclinations,” saying “[w]e believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.”
While some have lauded this anonymous person for their bravery or are happy that someone is working to destabilize and undermine an administration they loathe, there is nothing to be happy about in all of this and there is no bravery present in this anonymous person's words or acts. Quite the opposite in fact. What they are doing -- assuming they are telling the truth -- is both terrible for our country and cowardly in the extreme.
If, as the op-ed writer implies, one thinks Trump is literally unfit to govern, the 25th Amendment to the Constitution and the procedures it specifies for taking power away from an incapacitated president is how you remedy that. If, rather than doing that, you simply work behind the scene to thwart an incapacitated president's will, you are committing something akin to an administrative coup. You are undermining democratic legitimacy. I hate Trump and every single thing he stands for, but I believe democratic legitimacy and governing by duly-elected public officials matters more than just about anything. Just as we should not have had Woodrow Wilson's wife running the country after he had a stroke or Ronald Reagan's cabinet executing their own plans when, as some have suggested, he began to suffer from the early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, we cannot stand idly by while anonymous appointees make their own decisions about how America should be governed.
My suspicion, however, is that our anonymous op-ed writer does not believe that Trump is actually incapacitated or unfit for office. Rather, I believe they simply are looking to provide cover for themselves and other Republicans by distancing themselves from Trump. They're setting themselves up so that, later, when Trump finally and definitively crashes and burns, they can walk away from the wreckage without taking any responsibility for it whatsoever. "Hey, we were never really with him, so we cannot be held responsible for our complicity in his reign of incompetent terror now. Vote GOP in 2022!"
All of which is utter bullshit, of course. For the past two years Republicans have stood idly by, and in some cases have been wholly complicit, as Trump has disgraced America and the office of the presidency. They've done so to get rich, to get their taxes cut and to get the conservative judges and the other goodies they've long wanted. The alpha and omega of their true displeasure with Trump is the degree to which he has hampered the electoral prospects of other Republicans. They deny this, but their actions speak louder than their words. There are a host of ways in which Republicans could have worked to curb Trump's excesses and police his crimes, but they have undertaken none of them. I suspect that they believe doing so might imperil their access to more riches and more tax cuts. When it came time to choose between the health of the republic and their particular political goals, they chose the latter.
Which brings us back to our anonymous op-ed writer. If this person truly believes that their first duty is to our country and if they truly believe that Trump is a threat to the Republic -- and if, as is likely, Trump could not, ultimately be removed from office as unfit -- they should resign in very loud, very public protest. They should work against Trump and the danger to the republic they claim he poses. They should subordinate their comparatively insignificant desires for more tax cuts, more deregulation and even more conservative judges to the good of the nation, which they themselves claim is at risk.
They won't do that, though, because they want to have it both ways. They want to continue to get all of those policy goodies that having Donald Trump in office has given them while not taking any responsibility or political heat for the damage he is doing. They want to cover their asses, skate away from the consequences and, later, when they get their inevitable book deal or start collecting fat checks on the lecture circuit, to claim that they were, in reality, on the side of the angels all along.
We should not and must not allow that to happen.
As a friend observed to me this morning, when Trump is finally out of office -- be he voted out or forced out in ignominy -- we must never forget that, when faced with an amoral, unethical danger as president -- a threat to the republic, to use their own words -- Republicans grabbed as much money and power as they could and did nothing to stop him apart from offer empty words. We must remember that they are complicit and that their claims to be in opposition to Trump -- present since he burst on the political scene -- are phony and that their actions and, more notably, their inaction, of the past two years inextricably link them with Donald Trump. They should be similarly shamed.
Our anonymous op-ed writer is not a hero of the resistance. He's a collaborator looking to distance himself from his crimes. Treat him as such, both now and when his identity is inevitably revealed.