How congressman Devin Nunes behaved on the opening day of the House’s public impeachment hearings epitomizes how loyalty to Trump jeopardizes the personal honor of every House Republican while threatening the viability of the Republican Party.
The televised hearings invite a nationwide audience of millions to observe and evaluate the merits of every political actor involved in a momentous and rare Constitutional proceeding. As the ranking Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee, Nunes used his opening statement to deliver a partisan tirade, airing longstanding grievances irrelevant to the day’s proceedings, maligning his Democratic colleagues as liars, and insulting witnesses George Kent and William Taylor, whose accomplishments and integrity plainly far exceeded Nunes’s own.
Nunes and other Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee are intent on defending President Trump, but they have not really thought far enough ahead to understand how their prejudice in his favor will come across to citizens, who are counting on Congress to examine the president’s behavior fairly and impartially. The public hearings are a special test of Republican leadership and integrity, because millions of well-informed Americans already know that President Trump has abused his power for personal political gain–not least because the president’s official spokesman, Mick Mulvaney, has already told them so. Likewise, millions of Americans, including some of Mr. Nunes’s constituents, undoubtedly realize that the president’s behavior is an indefensible deviation from his Constitutionally sworn duties and a challenge to Congress. They are looking to see whether Republican lawmakers have the courage and independence to admit that Trump’s personal behavior threatens everything republican government stands for. Will House Republicans fail to admit that Trump must be stopped?
It was doubly ironical to witness Nunes’s crude attacks on the Democrats, given that the hearings were imbued with a concern for our national security and a patriotic determination to safeguard our republican form of government–issues historically central to the strength of the GOP. Democrats came off as patriotic defenders of our national integrity, whereas Nunes’s petty assertions must have dismayed anyone who cares about curbing Russian aggression or has been part of American efforts to support the principle of self-determination abroad. The injury that Nunes’s strategy inflicted fell mainly on his own personal reputation, for his fellow-Republicans and he tarnished themselves in defense of indefensible things.
House Republicans may be scared. Yet what is the nature of the hold Trump has on them? When will they see that their own best interest lies in being silent and attending solely to the facts presented, rather than whining about the unfairness of the proceedings? Nunes’s election margins back home in his district are diminishing; he might fear his chances of reelection are doomed unless he can count on votes from Trump’s base. It’s depressing to think that Republican congressmen have nothing more valuable or principled to offer voters. When political analysts say that the Republican Party has become “the party of Trump,” this is what they mean.
Republicans have only to abandon Trump to slip free of all these difficulties. Perhaps as the evidence mounts, Nunes and his ilk will see the wisdom of cutting Trump loose, a dramatic act that would give new life to embattled republican (and Republican) ideals.