The Real Lawless President

Republicans better start taking Trump’s monumental unfitness seriously.

Though he did more than any single person to sink Hillary Clinton’s campaign, I still believe former FBI Director James Comey more than I do the president of the United States. Donald Trump, as I enjoy saying, is a lying, thieving, philandering sadist. Comey is a lot of things, but not that. If he says Trump asked him to drop the case against Michael Flynn, and to consider jailing journalists for reporting leaks, I believe him.

Time will tell if this is the end or the beginning, but no one can doubt that according to a report last night in the New York Times, Trump appears to have interfered with an investigation and encouraged the prosecution of those who exercise their First Amendment rights.

The appearance, much less the fact, of violating the Constitution should have been enough to inflame the rage of a group of people who had previously savaged a previous president who, they said, violated the Constitution. Worse, they said, he was lawless.

When Barack Obama issued a 2014 executive order deprioritizing for deportation the children of undocumented immigrants, Republicans and their conservative media allies claimed — as Peter Wehner did in Commentary — that he was committing “an act of constitutional infamy.” For weeks and months leading up to the midterm elections of that year, they gnashed their teeth over his daring to defy Congress with “amnesty.”

Dozens and dozens of articles excoriated Obama as “lawless” — and not just kooks and wingers. George Will’s was among the bylines, as was Hugh Hewitt’s. The theme proved so potent with the Republican rank-and-file, it carried over into the 2016 GOP primaries where every single candidate for the nomination characterized Obama as “lawless.” It’s no wonder so many believed that with Trump, our immigration laws would finally be obeyed, as it they hadn’t been.

Yet now, when a president really truly is appearing to violate the Constitution by impeding a law enforcement investigation, something that’s common in places like Turkey but not here, these self-proclaimed Constitutional conservatives are no where to be found.

So I looked for them. Last night, the Tea Party Patriots, another group of Constitution lovers, was so concerned about Trump’s apparent breach of the rule of law that it twice thanked, on Twitter, White House aide Kellyanne Conway for helping the group and the president “make Americans’ lives better every day.”

FreedomWorks, another group of “Constitutional conservatives,” was equally concerned by the idea of imprisoning reporters for holding leaders to account that it tweeted a meme demanding the Senate repeal Obamacare root and branch.

And how about Ted Cruz? You’ll remember the Senator from Texas shut down the federal government with a fake filibuster demanding Congress defund Obamacare. He was also the president’s chief rival for some time for the GOP’s nomination. He, too, was concerned enough about Trump’s appearing to defile America’s civil religion that he pinned to his Twitter timeline—I am not kidding—a meme calling for the U.S. to “build a wall and El Chapo pay for it.”

Screaming “lawless” will never have the impact on Democrats that it has on Republicans, because “lawless” was never about the law or the Constitution. It was always about sending signals to Republican voters that President Obama was not like them and that everything he did was really truly an act of anti-American sabotage. Many of us thought this rhetoric was too hot for the midterms but it turned out to be a blazing success, not only for 2014 but for 2016 as well.

Principles still matter, and if the Republican care to avoid bankrupting their credibility among reasonably intelligent voters or risk their being swooped up by Democrats with big money on their side, they had better start taking President Trump’s monumental unfitness seriously. There’s more at stake than the future of the party.

John Stoehr

John Stoehr is a Washington Monthly contributing writer.