The GOP’s Opposition to Impeachment Is (Terrifyingly) Principled

The GOP’s Opposition to Impeachment Is (Terrifyingly) Principled

15 mins read
He’s just not that into liberal democracy. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

On impeachment, Republicans no longer know what to (officially) disbelieve.

Virtually all GOP lawmakers insist that the answer to the inquiry’s fundamental question is “no.” But the party can’t agree about what that fundamental question is. To Donald Trump and his closest House allies, the impeachment fight remains a dispute over whether the president offered the Ukrainian government a “quid pro quo” — which is to say, whether he bartered congressionally ordered military aid for an investigation into Joe Biden. But denying that Trump did precisely this now requires accusing current and former administration officials, including a decorated Iraq War veteran, of perjury, while also ignoring the various times the White House lost the plot and copped to its illicit diplomacy. Thus, many Senate Republicans want to take the battle to new terrain. For them, the key question is not whether Trump did what’s been alleged, but rather, whether his alleged actions merit removal from office.

Both frames are mere pretenses. Ted Cruz does not believe, as a matter of principle, that presidents shouldn’t be impeached for bribing foreign governments into investigating their domestic rivals any more than Donald Trump believes, as a matter of fact, that he never did any such thing. The GOP’s hypocrisy on questions of congressional procedure is unimpeachable. The party is not merely ideologically indifferent to corruption in foreign countries, but ideologically committed to abetting such corruption.

Washington Post, they put their personal service to the security state front and center, writing, “Everything we do harks back to our oaths to defend the country. These new allegations are a threat to all we have sworn to protect.” The inquiry’s star witnesses have struck similar notes. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, in his opening statement to Congress, declared, “I am a patriot, and it is my sacred duty and honor to advance and defend our country, irrespective of party or politics.”

unlawfully defied the will of Congress. By unlawfully denying military assistance to a NATO ally under attack, Trump jeopardized America’s national security. And by using his official powers to generate legal and political problems for his domestic opposition, the president violated a norm that is essential to the preservation of free and fair elections in the United States.

In public, Republicans will declare these assertions untrue. But from the perspective of their party’s core activists and donors, they may be simply irrelevant. At a Trump rally in Ohio last July, two of the president’s supporters wore T-shirts that read, “I’d rather be a Russian than a Democrat.” The implication of this sentiment — that conservatives should have more contempt for the GOP’s domestic adversaries than for America’s geopolitical ones — was hard to miss. It was also rather easy to understand. Two decades after the Cold War’s end, in a moment of peak partisan polarization, why should an ideologically committed conservative fear Russia’s occupation of Ukraine more than a Democrat’s occupation of the Oval Office? Put differently, why should a person who believes abortion is genocide care more about constraining Putin’s influence over eastern Europe than the pro-choice movement’s influence over the judiciary? America is simply too secure on the world stage — and divided on the domestic one — for appeals to national solidarity in the face of a foreign menace to pack much punch.

an ersatz version of producerist populism. Charles Koch can read a poll. He knows the Trump tax cuts weren’t passed by popular demand. From his wing of the party’s perspective, it’s not clear how protecting norms that enable free and fair elections will keep America off the road to serfdom (a.k.a. social democracy). But it’s quite clear how impeaching an incumbent Republican president with high in-party approval could demoralize the GOP base, and ensure a Democrat’s election in 2020. And it’s also readily apparent that, given another four years, Trump could consolidate conservative control of the courts for a generation, thereby insulating conservative economic orthodoxy against the threat of democratic rebuke.

The Christian right, meanwhile, has forfeited all dreams of a moral majority. They may expect to be on the right side of the eschaton. But they recognize they’re going to be on “the wrong side of history” — or at least, the history of a democratic United States. With the American public’s social liberalism steadily rising, and its rates of church attendance in decline, Trump’s Evangelical supporters have no unambiguous interest in combating the subversion of democratic elections; if the will of the American people is irreconcilable with that of God, than their movement has no investment in seeing the former’s will be done. But they share their plutocratic co-partisans’ interest in securing a seven to two conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

the GOP’s nativist contingent, “the ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty means that the electorate grows more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally American with every cycle.” Trump’s best efforts have been insufficient to significantly slow the diversification of the U.S. population. Republican efforts to undermine democracy — through various forms of targeted voter suppression and dilution — have been far more effective in neutralizing the (supposed) demographic threat.

In other words: The conservative movement increasingly understands itself as a minoritarian project locked in a rearguard struggle against an ascendent “socialist” left. The rhetoric of the party’s leading politicians and commentators routinely affirms this worldview, casting the stakes of partisan conflict in existential terms. The president has said that Democrats plan to establish “open borders,” and “infest” the country with illegal immigrants, because “they view them as potential voters!” He’s insinuated that the opposition party orchestrated an “invasion” of the U.S. by Central American migrants in a bid to steal the midterm elections with illegal votes. Fox host Tucker Carlson has put the point more bluntly: Democrats are “plotting a coup” — one that involves winning power in 2020, and then immediately enfranchising illegal immigrants en masse as a means of permanently disempowering real Americans.

“Normal” Republicans are scarcely less hysterical. Mitch McConnell has said that Democrats are trying to foment a “socialist” takeover of the United States. Nancy Pelosi’s supposed “democracy reforms” would actually “make it harder for private citizens to exercise their right to political speech,” and thus, easier for Democrats to “seize money and power from American families and communities and pile it up in their own hands here in Washington, D.C.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, meanwhile, has accused California’s Democratic Party of stealing multiple 2018 House races through voter fraud. Figures like McConnell and McCarthy may not actually believe these things (Mitch surely knows that Pelosi is no Leninist). But many of their core constituents — and at least some of their congressional colleagues — do.

skirted the letter of the law in the course of prosecuting the war on terrorism? Sometimes, you have to bend a constitutional order to prevent them from breaking it.

Democracy isn’t for everyone.

Liberals and Never Trump conservatives regularly castigate congressional Republicans for their cowardice. And certainly, some percentage of GOP politicians are abetting Trump’s malfeasance for craven, careerist reasons. But it’s the ones who are doing so out of moral conviction who should truly concern us. Understanding pro-Trump conservatives as a pack of spineless opportunists putting short-term political expediency above their highest ideals is almost certainly too optimistic. In a hyperpolarized political system — and in the face of demographic and ideological headwinds — many conservatives simply see little reason to value the maintenance of democratic norms above the preservation of their movement’s power.

@DavidJollyFL w/ @NicolleDWallace

— Deadline White House (@DeadlineWH) November 4, 2019

And their reasoning is intelligible. Few people sincerely value liberal democracy as an end in itself. Reverence for that form of government is typically rooted in the conviction that it will produce justice more reliably than any alternative. For most of our history, the American right has viewed that premise with skepticism, arguing for restrictions to the franchise — and circumscription of individual rights — on the grounds that making such liberties universal would jeopardize higher goods. In our republic’s earliest years, reactionaries railed against voting rights for unpropertied white men, and rights of any kind for enslaved African-Americans. The terms of debate shifted as “the moral arc of history” bent. But it was only six decades ago that the leading light of the modern conservative movement asked himself “whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically?” and concluded, “The sobering answer is ‘Yes’ — the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.” And it was only 17 years ago that the current Senate majority leader argued against the enfranchisement of former felons on the grounds that “voting is a privilege.”

American conservatives have opposed liberal democracy — universally applied — longer than they’ve endorsed it. And in recent years, Republicans have grown increasingly skeptical that popular democracy is compatible with their conceptions of liberty and justice. On the state level, the party has already taken a variety of measures to safeguard the latter by abridging the former.

global Green New Deal by abetting a Democratic president’s lawless assaults on the constitutional order and free and fair elections, it’s conceivable that they (we) would do so.

more critical of anti-democratic aspects of our constitutional order. But the progressive vision for restructuring that order involves winning control of a Democratic Party that is presently dominated by procedurally conservative institutionalists, winning free and fair elections, and then passing laws.

structural biases of U.S. electoral institutions guarantee the party of white rural America a hefty share of power, no matter how anti-majoritarian its worldview becomes. And as conservative Christians grow more socially marginalized, they may come to appreciate the virtues of liberal pluralism.

On the other hand, the right has paid little price for its escalating assaults on democracy and lawfulness. Targeted voter suppression, dilution, and disenfranchisement has secured the Republican Party’s grip on power in states across the country, and helped to facilitate Donald Trump’s election. Ruthless apologetics for the president’s corruption, meanwhile, have helped the movement to secure tax cuts for the Koch Network, and Supreme Court justices for the pews. And although the party’s excesses may have cost it the House, available polling still gives the GOP a solid chance of keeping the presidency and Senate in 2020 (and therefore, the judiciary for decades). What’s more, any course of action that increases public cynicism about politics and government serves to devolve authority to the private sector, which the movement’s patrons rule.

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