As impeachment proceedings got underway this morning in the House, ABC News’ Terry Moran raised an important point about the evolution in Republican thinking on Donald Trump’s Ukraine scandal.
“At the beginning, [when the call summary of Trump’s conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky first reached the public,] and you saw in black and white the president talk about Joe Biden and ‘do us a favor, though’ to the president of Ukraine, that gave clearly a lot of voters … and their representatives in Congress, including Republicans in Congress, some pause.
“There were Republicans – in public, for the first time, really, in this presidency – saying, ‘That’s not OK.’ That they were ‘troubled’ by it. That it’s ‘not appropriate.’
“Now you can’t find nary a one who’ll say anything but basically what the president says…. And that shift in the view of the facts – not just how they should be weighed but reality itself – is essentially that mesmerizing hold that Donald Trump has on the Republican Party.”
I continue to believe this is among the most remarkable aspects of the impeachment process that’s unfolded over the last few months.
Late September and early October may seem like ancient history, but after Trump urged Ukraine and China to go after one of his domestic political rivals, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) described the president’s rhetoric as “wrong and appalling.” Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) were willing to express similar concerns.
As of last week, however, some House Republicans were content to pretend Trump did not say what we all heard him say.
Similarly, as the details of the White House’s Ukraine scheme came into focus, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) conceded to reporters, “The picture coming out of [the hearings] based on the reporting we’ve seen is, yeah, I would say is not a good one.” Even one of the Fox & Friends co-hosts told viewers, “If the president said, ‘I’ll give you the money, but you’ve got to investigate Joe Biden’, that’d be off-the-rails wrong.”
In late September, the conservative Washington Examiner published a report with a memorable headline: “ ‘Dam will start to break’: Hill GOP could back impeachment if Trump demanded Ukraine quid pro quo.” The piece quoted a Republican insider who has been privy to conversations on Capitol Hill saying, “If there is evidence of a quid pro quo, many think the dam will start to break on our side.”
Soon after, overwhelming evidence of a quid pro quo emerged.
The same article quoted a chief of staff for a House Republican saying Trump might face real trouble “if he withheld aid and there was a direct quid pro quo.”
And yet, now that these thresholds have been met, GOP officials have decided their recent standards no longer apply. As of this morning, the official GOP line, evidence be damned, is that Trump has done nothing wrong. There were no abuses. No lines were crossed. There were no misjudgments. Everything the administration did was, as the president put it, “perfect.”
As we recently discussed, there’s been plenty of discussion about Republicans radically changing their standards for impeachment since Bill Clinton’s presidency. There’s even been some focus on GOP officials changing their standards since Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. (Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, for example, suggested on Nov. 2, 2016, that Hillary Clinton’s email protocols met the “high crime or misdemeanor” standard.)
And while it’d be encouraging to see Republicans maintain some consistency over the course of several years, I’d settle for GOP officials remaining consistent over the course of a few months.