Jennifer Rubin: The Democrats at least try to hold their own accountable

Virginia Lt. Gov Justin Fairfax looks over a briefing book prior to the start of the senate session at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. A California woman has accused Fairfax of sexually assaulting her 15 years ago. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

President Donald Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women; was accused by numerous women of sexual harassment or assault; endorsed a candidate for Senate who was credibly accused of child molestation; praised an aide despite photographic evidence supporting accusations of spousal abuse; directed that hush money be paid to women in advance of the 2016 election (arguably in violation of federal campaign finance laws); and routinely smeared and insulted women.

He refused to divest his business properties, leading to widespread conflicts of interest and receipt of potentially unconstitutional emoluments. He repeatedly interfered with an ongoing investigation and was forced to close his foundation after discovery of widespread financial impropriety.

Now we learn, through reporting in The Washington Post, about a far-flung operation that sourced and employed illegal immigrants for a Trump property. (Frank Sharry of America's Voice told me, "Long before Trump shamelessly exploited the fear of undocumented immigrants for political gain, he shamelessly exploited the labor of undocumented immigrants for private profit. The hypocrisy is stunning. The lawlessness seems clear. State and federal investigations into possible labor, trafficking and conspiracy are needed.") An ordinary business would be under investigation, facing massive fines.

And yet, with all that and much more, not a single Republican member of Congress has called for Trump's impeachment or resignation. None has even demanded he decline to run for re-election. Supposedly respected Republican pundits defend him, vilify Trump critics, abhor congressional oversight and support his re-election. After all, they got their huge tax cuts for the rich and two Supreme Court appointments to their liking.

The moral failure and abject irresponsibility of the Republican Party, its donors, its activists and its countless enablers continue to shock and dismay the rest of America. Have these Republicans no standards, no decency? They do not.

Contrast that with Democrats' reaction to their own side's misconduct in Virginia. Democratic state legislators, House members, both U.S. senators for Virginia and a slew of presidential candidates demanded Gov. Ralph Northam resign after a photograph was made public of a person in blackface and another in a Ku Klu Klan robe and hood on his 1984 medical school yearbook page.

When two women came forward with credible, detailed accusations of sexual assault against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, Democratic state officials called for him to resign. Del. Patrick A. Hope, D-Arlington, on Friday declared his intention to introduce articles of impeachment.

Republicans, who backed the Senate candidacy of the pro-Confederate Corey A. Stewart, have the temerity to gripe that Democrats' denunciation of their own official didn't come fast enough.

Democrats should not complain about the glaring double standard. They should embrace it and revel in their own party's willingness to hold its side to a standard of decency, candor and faithfulness to the law. Democrats could not always claim to be on the side of the angels, but the passage of time and the lessons of the Clinton presidency (not to mention the rising activism and political influence of women and nonwhite voters) have changed their mind-set. Rather than react with "Circle the wagons!" they consider the bigger picture. Do not defend the indefensible. Do not sacrifice long-term reputation for short-term political expediency. The party must stand for something more than the defense of its sleaziest members.

Democrats aren't saints, to be sure. No party is without hypocrisy or devoid of charlatans. However, at this juncture, there is simply no comparison between the two sides. Commentators suggesting otherwise in the name of "balance" or "fairness" discredit themselves and perpetuate dysfunction and corruption. If both sides are the same, neither is responsible; if Republicans are never held accountable because they can get away with "whataboutism," they will never reform.

Democrats understandably bemoan the contrived equivalence that infects news coverage. However, instead of complaining that it's not fair for their side to be held to a higher standard, they should tout their adherence, however imperfectly, to some level of responsible, decent conduct. They should give voters some credit. Voters have registered their disapproval of Trump, deplored his dishonesty and punished Republicans at the polls in the midterms. Sometimes doing the right thing is smart politics.

When Democratic supporters and activists tell pols not to criticize their own because “Republicans don’t hold their side accountable!,” Democrats should be proud to respond: Darn right. But we do.

Jennifer Rubin | The Washington Post

Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for The Washington Post.