Stu Rothenberg Makes an Extreme Both Sides Do It Argument

I am impressed that Stuart Rothenberg managed to write this column. The ostensible point of the piece (as indicated by the headline) is to examine whether or not there is any likelihood of a wholesale exodus of Republican lawmakers who are so outraged or embarrassed by Trump’s behavior and positions that they rescind their endorsements of their own party’s presidential nominee.

Rothenberg argues that this is unlikely to happen because the Democrats didn’t abandon Bill Clinton during l’affaire Lewinsky.

Why am I so skeptical that mainstream Republicans who have already climbed out on the Trump limb will turn around and crawl back? Because that is not how American politics works.

Something very similar happened back in 1998, when Democrats circled the wagons and stuck by Bill Clinton even though he had a very inappropriate relationship (including in the Oval Office) with an intern and lied to the American public. Democrats turned the scandal into a partisan fight.

That construction right there…that retelling of not-too-distant history…is almost sufficient to boil my brain and make my ears steam.

I’m not going to re-litigate the Lewinsky scandal this morning, but a supposedly neutral analyst like Stu Rothenberg sure sounds like a Clinton-hating Republican when he says that it was the Democrats who turned the president’s bad behavior into a partisan fight.

For the young people who might not know, the Republicans’ hounded President Clinton relentlessly with frivolous investigations backed by unhinged conspiracy theories, and when they finally caught him lying about his sexual relationship with an intern, they told the nation that the only remedy was to treat it as a high crime and misdemeanor, hold an impeachment trial, share every sordid detail of the affair, and remove him from office. Any humiliation or punishment short of that was supposed to undermine the very fabric of our government and society.

But, for Rothenberg, the way the Democrats’ responded to that provocation is exactly the same as how the Republicans are responding (and likely to continue to respond) to having to defend Trump’s big mouth and policy heterodoxies.

The beauty of this column is that it allows Rothenberg to slam Bill Clinton and to say that however disgraceful Donald Trump is and how shameful it is for Republicans to continue to support him, the Democrats are exactly the same.

Like Bill Clinton back then, Trump’s behavior has been so far over the line — with his comments ranging from incoherent to inaccurate to outrageous — that it is remarkable so many Republicans continue to support and defend him.

Can you imagine what Republican officeholders, activists and voters would say if a Democratic presidential nominee acted as Trump has or benefited from Kremlin hacking? (I am sure Democrats would be defending that nominee.)

If the Democrats had a candidate who benefitted from Kremlin hacking, who insulted women, blacks, Latinos, gays, Muslims, and the disabled, while taking positions on civil liberties and rights that were completely at odds with their values and the Constitution, I think it is unlikely that they’d stay united behind that nominee.

But Rothenberg tells us that both sides are equally to blame.

In spite of all of the talk about weaker parties and the growing number of independents, partisanship runs very deep in American politics. It is easier and probably safer politically to hunker down with fellow partisans than to break from the crowd.

Character and principle are qualities that are in short supply on both sides of the aisle.

But that certainly is nothing new.

It’s true that people care about stuff and they don’t want to see someone who disagrees with them about important things elected president. Therefore, people will only reluctantly conclude that the other party’s candidate is the only suitable choice for president. But reluctance is not the same as making the right decision when it is forced upon you. It was totally unnecessary to impeach and attempt to remove Bill Clinton from office. The decision to rally behind him was completely unlike the decision some Republicans are making to stick with Donald Trump.

I wonder if the “objective” analyst Stu Rothenberg pulled any muscles contorting himself this much to make a “both sides do it” argument.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.