How much power it will retain after November remains in doubt, but the Republican Party as historically understood is vanishing before our eyes. What remains is the Party of Trump, an authoritarian cult of personality.
As I write, the president of the United States has been engaged in a barefaced effort at jury tampering in a trial directly affecting his personal interest. While a jury deliberated 18 counts of tax evasion and bank fraud against former campaign manager Paul Manafort, Trump daily assailed the prosecutors as “thugs” and their case as a politically motivated fraud.
It’s been a direct attempt to obstruct justice. According to one standard definition, “A person commits the crime of jury tampering if, with intent to influence a juror’s vote, opinion, decision or other action in the case, he attempts directly or indirectly to communicate with a juror other than as part of the proceedings in the trial of the case.”
Whether via Twitter or TV, it’s all the same.
Most legal observers thought prosecutors played a lay-down hand against Manafort: $15 million stashed in offshore bank accounts and no income taxes paid. Manifestly false applications for more millions in loans. Accountants and bankers admitting chicanery.
For all of that, the jury did its duty.
Even so, Trump’s brazen interference is Third World strongman stuff, a direct attack upon the rule of law. Even Vladimir Putin pretends to respect due process. And it might easily have succeeded. Only a couple of Trumpist true-believers could have deadlocked the jury. A hung jury would not have been a total surprise.
What’s more, can there be any doubt of the president’s intent? The mind of man can scarcely conceive the uproar that would have resulted if Bill Clinton or Barack Obama had engaged in such an effort — which, of course, neither man did.
And yet not a single Republican avatar of law and order uttered a discouraging word. Not one. After all, who can stop him? To some degree, we’ve all become inured to the never-ending Mel Brooks movie that is the Trump administration — in many ways more farcical than sinister.
Even so, they’re scared to death of him. The general silence is remarkable.
Also totally unsurprising. Writing in The Daily Beast, Mike Tomasky argues that contrary to conventional wisdom, “D.C. Republicans don’t fail to object to Trump because they’re afraid of his base. They refuse to stand up to Trump because they like what Trump is doing.”
Tomasky describes the party’s slow-motion stampede toward authoritarianism at greater length in The New York Times Review of Books, commencing with Newt Gingrich’s Clinton-era memo urging Republicans to describe Democrats with terms like “radical,” “sick,” and “traitors” — basically enemies of God and America.
Mimicked by Rush Limbaugh and eventually by Sean Hannity and other right-wing media shills, it was a strategy to delegitimize the opposition, making compromise suspect.
Tomasky catalogues more recent results:
“The shutting down of the recount in Florida in 2000. The aggressive gerrymandering, first engineered by Tom DeLay. The Hastert Rule, holding that bills could pass the House only with a majority of Republicans, and not with bipartisan support. The attacks on voting rights — straight-up attempts to make it hard or even impossible for certain citizens to vote.”
I suppose it’s merely ironic that the so-called “Hastert Rule” — leading to the near-paralysis and deep unpopularity of Congress — is the namesake of a stern moralist who went to prison after paying hush money to a high-school wrestler he’d molested in his coaching days.
Then came the blocking of Obama Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. Republicans could simply have voted him down, Tomasky argues, but wanted to prove “that they could exercise public contempt for the democratic allocation of power. And win.”
Trump then emerged as the strongman the party really wanted.
Did Texas Sen. Ted Cruz once describe Trump as “utterly amoral,” “a pathological liar” who “doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies”? Yes, but running for re-election in Texas, today he’s all aboard the Trump train.
Did former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney once call Trump “a phony, a fraud?” Yes, he did, also pointing to “the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, [and] the absurd third-grade theatrics.”
Ever the gentleman, the president later described Romney “begging” for his 2012 endorsement. “I could have said, ‘Mitt, drop to your knees’ — he would have dropped to his knees,” Trump said.
Running for the Senate in Utah, Romney’s back on his knees, confidently predicting Trump’s 2020 re-election.
In short, don’t kid yourself. Trump’s offenses against the rule of law mean nothing to these jokers. Manafort, too, is a perfect symbol for today’s GOP. When push comes to shove, all that really matters is tax cuts for Republican donors of extreme wealth, persons literally mad with greed. That and raw political power.
The good news is they can’t call off the November election.