Donald Trump
Credit: Shealah Craighead\Flickr

I am trying to think of some political alliances that haven’t worked out so well. Here are a few that come to mind:

The Sauds’ decision to team up with Wahhabi preachers gave them legitimacy and made it possible for them to conquer the Arabian peninsula and its holiest sites. Their decision to counter the influence of the Iranian Revolution by exporting their own fundamentalist version of Islam to the far reaches of the Earth has unleashed an unending cycle of violence.

The Likud Party’s decision to pursue an expansion of settlements policy allowed them to end the Labor Party’s lock on power in Israel. Their reliance on settlers and those sympathetic to the settlers for their political power has made it impossible to negotiate with the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors and turned Israel into a very isolated and unpopular country worldwide.

I don’t know how it will turn out in the end, but the Tories’ decision to cling to power in the United Kingdom by making an alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Island could blow up the Good Friday agreement that brought peace to Ireland.

These are the kinds of alliances that come to my mind when I think about the arrangement we’re seeing in Washington DC right now between Donald Trump and conservatives in the Republican Party. Sometimes these alliances have an internal logic that makes them work for the narrow purpose of holding and maintaining power. Here at home, the Democratic Party managed to accomplish a great many outstanding things even while having one foot in Jim Crow and white supremacy. They even managed to work themselves out of that arrangement with the devil without completely collapsing as a political force, although they’ve never recovered their former strength.

In all these cases, well meaning people made compromises that they thought they could justify in the interest of some other high-minded principles. But there’s always a line that shouldn’t be crossed, and eventually it comes back to bite you when you enter into a political alliance that you know, deep-down, is simply wrong.

Keep all of that in mind while reading what Ronald Brownstein has to say:

In the week since fired FBI Director James Comey leveled his explosive charges at the president, Capitol Hill Republicans have followed a two-track response. With virtual unanimity, they have insisted that even if Trump did everything Comey alleged, the behavior does not warrant criminal action or impeachment. And simultaneously, while the Trump-Comey confrontation has monopolized media attention, both chambers have advanced deeply conservative policy proposals—with House Republicans voting to repeal the major financial regulations approved under former President Barack Obama, and Senate Republicans working in private toward a plan to repeal Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Both of these responses rest on the calculation that Republicans can best avoid losses in 2018 by mobilizing their base supporters, no matter how other voters respond to their actions. But the choice to aim their governing decisions at such a narrow spectrum of Americans could magnify the risks facing Republicans in 2018—and, for that matter, Trump in 2020. As Trump’s presidency careens through increasingly turbulent waters, congressional Republicans are lashing themselves ever more tightly to its mast.

Insofar as Trump is a conservative at all, he represents the nastiest elements of conservatism. As he drives decent people away from the Republican Party, what remains is more racist, more misogynistic, more hostile to education, science, and evidence. And the Republicans are locking themselves into a strategy that panders to this remnant, which has a catalytic effect that compounds and accelerates the de-evolution of the right.

So, we come quickly to a point where the GOP’s officeholders don’t feel that they can do the decent thing.

With the Washington Post bombshell report that the obstruction probe is in full swing (“Trump’s actions now a focus of Mueller inquiry”), the reality has White House officials and Republicans sweating profusely for several reasons:

  • They know Trump talked to countless people about ending the Flynn probe, so they assume Comey’s version of events is true.
  • They assume he did, indeed, ask Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency, if they could help derail the Flynn probe, as the WashPost reported. They also assume he said similar things to other officials.
  • Nobody has privately mounted a straight-faced argument to us that Trump didn’t say this stuff to Comey or to Coats/Rogers. That’s telling in itself. The fact that the Trump public position — that Comey is a perjurer — isn’t being argued in private.
  • Any obstruction probe requires context, which means investigators digging into the finances of Flynn, Trump and Jared Kushner. This is the phase of the probe many Republicans have always feared most.
  • The obstruction probe is simply a new layer to the bigger underlying matters: Did Flynn have illegal or improper contacts, and did the Trump campaign collude with the Russians to influence the 2016 campaign? So the investigation is metastasizing.
  • Trump’s wife and Chief of Staff had to dissuade him from firing Mueller this week, the N.Y. Times reported. Why fire someone if you have nothing to hide?
  • Text to Jonathan Swan from a GOP operative close to the White House: “Leak was probably a response to stories about POTUS firing Mueller. Can’t fire him now.”

It’s clear that most Republicans know that they’re playing dumb and that their talking points are ridiculous. But they need this alliance to work to pass their agenda and they don’t know if they can survive if they are the authors of its collapse.

Just remember, Lyndon Johnson was at the height of his powers and commanded a party that had never been stronger when he decided to pursue the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That’s how the Democratic Party got out of its deal with the devil. They cashed in on their political success in order to do the right thing, even while knowing that it would cost them dearly.

The Republicans should look to that example. They haven’t had this much power since the 1920s, but it’s not doing them any good. It’s the product of a series of unholy alliances that are now coming home to roost. They are now the party of Donald Trump, and not with one foot, but with both feet.

Getting rid of Trump will be a lot easier than getting rid of racial segregation. Once Mueller provides his report, treat Trump like a Band-Aid. The faster you remove him the less painful it will be.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at