The Republican Party Has Lost Its Way

The latest attacks against Special Counsel Robert Mueller exemplify today’s unprincipled GOP.

You may not have noticed a coordinated effort over the last few days to erode the credibility of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a Republican and former FBI director who is investigating the president’s ties to Russia and that country’s efforts to influence the 2016 election. Fox News is leading the charge with guests calling for a “purge” of the FBI and anchors suggesting there’s a deep-state “coup” going on to undermine President Trump.

This is bosh, but it’s not what I want to talk about today. What I want to ask is this: What does it say about the current Republican Party when former intelligence officials, many of them Republican, are siding with congressional Democrats in trying to prevent Trump from firing Mueller? What does it say about the GOP currently in power when a former CIA director and a former Republican congressman, in a Christmas Day op-ed in the Washington Post, say we remain vulnerable to Russian attack?

These are big questions with lots of room for disagreement. But one thing I want to focus on is this: whatever you thought “conservative” meant is no longer the case. Today’s conservatives, rallied around this president, are not conservative, nor are they especially principled. Today’s conservatives appear willing to attack journalists and law enforcement in the interest of power. Today’s conservatives seem to be aiding and abetting the enemy.

It sounds like I’m calling conservatives the enemy. I’m not. I presume they are following what they believe is their political interests and goals. But in doing that, they are attacking the Bill of Rights and the rule of law, which tells me these Republicans have lost their way. I don’t know what their intentions are. I can’t read minds. But in attacking the foundations of the republic, the outcome of these efforts is surely making Vladimir Putin smile.

I don’t expect anyone to accept this as gospel truth. But opinions have a way of becoming conventional wisdom, depending on facts and concrete circumstances and fate. The more we know about this president, the more we know something is rotten. The more this Republican Party lies with rot, the more rotten it becomes.

Let’s flip the question: what does it say about liberalism when former members of the George W. Bush administration take sides with Democrats in expressing worry about national security and Russia’s so-called influence campaign in the 2016 election. Again, a big question, but here’s one thing I would suggest—a moment is coming when liberalism will again take the political center.

For all the talk about snowflakes and the like, Trump is historically unpopular, as is everything he has done since taking office. He does not occupy the political center. As the Republicans rally to protect him, they push themselves to the margins, which is a perilous place to be. In this context, liberalism may find itself experiencing a renaissance, a reawakening among voters to its true meaning: a school of thought dedicated to pursuing liberty and equality.

In this political climate, in which a president attacks the democratic norms and institutions that are the bedrock of republican self-government, it is the liberals who are standing with the rule of law and American values. In this climate, in which an authoritarian seeks to poison U.S. public opinion with disinformation, it is the liberals who appears to be more patriotic than partisan.

It has always been thus. Liberals are by definition uncomfortable with politics, because they believe always that something is more important. Patriotism, duty, honor, freedom, equality­—to liberals, these values matter more than politics. Conservatives, by their very nature, are the opposite. Nothing is more important than politics.

This may have been okay after the Soviet Union collapsed, but it’s not okay now that our former global adversary has attacked us. Liberals thought they were ascendant during the Obama years. But the recent history may be overshadowed by what’s the come.

John Stoehr

John Stoehr is a Washington Monthly contributing writer.