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Once again, the Republican Party has a date with history and its future as an institution. The inquiry into a potential impeachment of President Donald Trump puts them before a large mirror, and they will have to decide if the sad image that reflects back is what will define them, or if they will finally put the country and the Constitution ahead of political expediency.
On Sunday the Republican congressman from Florida, Francis Rooney, who has demonstrated himself to be open to the process of impeaching Trump if the evidence merits it, said on CNN that he is profoundly worried about the future of his party. Curiously Rooney announced his retirement and that, of course, permits him to be more critical toward the president and sound the alarm about the destiny of his party.
Because even until now Trump has the Republican Party eating out of his hands, since they know that he has the base on his side. Congressional Republicans don’t want to rock the boat because they are afraid of becoming the object of the President’s wrath and feeling the contempt of the base. On the other hand, Trump has advanced the conservative agenda, particularly with the naming of conservative judges to the federal bench, so longed for by the Republicans.
That is why all of Trump’s actions—which they would never tolerate from any Democrat—have been forgiven, from the potential obstruction of justice in the inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 elections; his immigration policies that have been blocked by the courts; his personal enrichment and that of his relatives since the start of his presidency; his attacks on intelligence agencies and the press; his foreign policy decisions steamrolling allies, and his affinity with dictators and autocrats.
The Republican critiques of Trump have been fairly soft, and have been about certain things only, not the long-term. Take the Republican Senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, who condemned Trump’s decision to, in summary, double cross the Kurds in Syria; but at the same time it was reported that he was collecting signatures from his colleagues to guarantee that under no circumstance would Trump be convicted by the Senate if the House of Representatives approves articles of impeachment that would give way to a trial in the upper chamber.
Since the second half of the twentieth century there have been two instances that have tested whether the Republican Party would put country ahead of political opportunism. One of those was the McCarthyism of 1950 to 1956, in the midst of the Cold War, that resulted in the persecution and a veritable witch hunt of people suspected to be communists. The Republican Senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, acted with impunity and years passed before his fellow republicans finally turned their back on him.
The other was the Watergate scandal, which resulted in the resignation of a Republican president, Richard Nixon, in 1974, and which also tested the loyalties of the Republican Party.
But this chapter of Trump in the twenty-first century has no precedent. The Republican silence in the face of the excesses of this president has been deafening. Even now when the President himself and the very White House acknowledge that he conditioned foreign assistance to the Ukraine on the exchange of adverse information about a potential political rival, the Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden, Republicans evade the subject, although they cannot do so for much longer.
If the impeachment process advances, Republicans in Congress will have to decide if their loyalty is to the Constitution, the nation, the values they have always claimed to defend; or if they will succumb to a self-serving Trump who is only loyal to himself.