President Donald Trump went into crazy conspiracy mode Wednesday morning, perhaps overcompensating for the news that his attorney Michael Cohen’s business partner and “Taxi King” Evgeny Freidman struck a plea deal, or perhaps in reaction to the backlash against Republicans outing a secret intelligence source. His Twitter storm unleashed a host of crackpot conspiracy theories and non sequiturs:
“If the person placed very early into my campaign wasn’t a SPY put there by the previous Administration for political purposes, how come such a seemingly massive amount of money was paid for services rendered — many times higher than normal . . .
“Look how things have turned around on the Criminal Deep State. They go after Phony Collusion with Russia, a made up Scam, and end up getting caught in a major SPY scandal the likes of which this country may never have seen before! What goes around, comes around! . . .
“SPYGATE could be one of the biggest political scandals in history! . . . WITCH HUNT!”
Remember, it is already established that there was no planted spy. The source his own allies outed was not part of the campaign. If Trump actually believes what he is saying, he truly is mentally unbalanced and incapable of fulfilling the duties of his office. But if, as most suspect, the latest outbursts are part of a deliberate strategy to vilify and discredit law enforcement and eviscerate the line between fact and fiction, one has to examine the people who make this routine — what you’d expect from a tin-pot dictator — possible.
I’m not talking in this instance about Rudolph Giuliani, whose unhinged rhetoric and yen for the limelight is surpassed only by Trump, nor am I referring to the president’s malicious allies in the House, most especially Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who cooked up one fake conspiracy after another and viciously attacked law enforcement. (Freedom Caucus members’ rhetoric sounds more like that of 1960s radical leftists than the voice of conservative Republicans.)
I don’t even point the finger at Fox News, which has abandoned any pretense of real journalism to perpetuate a lucrative cable TV operation, even at the expense of polluting our politics and destroying an semblance of sanity in the GOP.
No, in this case I am referring to the active and quiet enablers, the politicians and pundits on “respectable” publications who indulge and even encourage Trump. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who is responsible for keeping Nunes on the House Intelligence Committee, hit a new low when he applauded the nonexistent scandal. He declared on CNN: “I do think it’s appropriate in the context of the legitimate Intelligence Committee investigation that this information be provided to Congress.”
No. This is not a legitimate investigation. It is a hyper-partisan effort built on a mountain of lies (e.g. the Deep State, a planted spy) and designed to provide protection to a president who is engaged in an ongoing scheme to disrupt, to obstruct, justice. Surely Ryan knows this, and yet in his final months in office he cannot manage to put country before party. He is smart enough to know that the Big Lie and attacks on the investigators come straight from the authoritarian handbook. He chooses to do nothing - because, well, tax cuts? His thought process and moral calculus are no longer rational.
There is another cadre of people responsible for the dangerous assault on reality and on law enforcement. These are the supposedly rational Republican pundits who coo about Trump’s court appointments, the rollback of environmental regulations, and a huge tax cut for the rich and corporations. So we’re all good! No problem — he’s a success! Misplaced priorities and tribal loyalty have shredded any semblance of moral and intellectual integrity, making them apologists for a dangerous and unfit president. They have some judges yet passively accept the erosion of legal norms and the assault on the justice system.
And let’s not forget the “mainstream” Republicans who remain silent — Sens. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Rob Portman of Ohio, John Cornyn of Texas, etc. — and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (who won’t bring a bill to protect the special prosecutor to the floor). They actually have the power to call Trump out, to denounce his egregious conduct, to censure the president and to construct guardrails (e.g. protect Mueller, reject unfit nominees, reassert Congress’s war-making powers) to protect the republic during this scary time.
Ultimately, history and the voters will judge all of these people. In the short run, voters in November should consider what a GOP House and Senate majority has wrought. Instead of curtailing an out-of-control, despotic president, they cower or, worse, cheer. They should not be entrusted with power.
Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Washington Post, offering reported opinion from a center-right perspective.