The Republicans are treating party affiliation as a crime

The president’s revenge began in November when the US Treasury Department sent highly sensitive financial documents tied to Hunter Biden to three Senate panels led by Republicans. Donald Trump’s vengeance continued Friday when not only national security official Alexander Vindman was perp-walked out of the White House but his twin brother, too. Yevgeny Vindman had nothing to do with his brother’s testimony.

This article was originally published at The Editorial Board

“Moderate” GOP senators gave the impression Saturday they tried to stop the president from retaliating against Vindman and his brother (as well as against US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland). They could do nothing, of course, because they had neutered themselves in the process of acquitting Trump.Some, like Maine’s Susan Collins, insisted Trump had “learned his lesson” and would never again dare solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election. They said this even as other GOP Senators, such as South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, were conspiring to pursue not only the president’s rivals but their families, too. The Republicans are prepared to go where even the Ukrainians wouldn’t—defraud the American people.

On “Face the Nation” Sunday, Graham said the US Department of Justice had created a “process” by which the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, could “give information” about Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Host Margaret Brennan later asked:

When you’re talking about being asked to do these things in a channel being open between Rudy Giuliani and the Justice Department, this sounds a lot like this is in some ways a taxpayer funded oppo-research operation against Joe Biden. Isn’t this exactly what was at the heart of the impeachment probe to begin with? (My italics.)

Graham said no, but the correct answer is yes. At the heart of the impeachment investigation was the false allegation that Joe Biden, when he was the vice president, had pressured Ukraine’s prosecutor-general to go easy on the gas firm Hunter worked for. As I said before, and will continue saying, that’s the opposite of what happened.

Brennan was right. An open channel between America’s top cop and Trump’s top lawyer is indeed a taxpayer funded oppo-research operation against Joe Biden. But it’s much more than that. Graham described something commonplace in the world’s autocratic regimes, and a natural consequence of acquitting Trump of abuse of power despite overwhelming evidence. Graham described the criminal investigation of partisan opponents. He described treating party affiliation as a potential crime.

Graham and the heads of two other Senate panels have been quietly expanding their “inquiry” into Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine. In November, they asked for and received “the most sensitive and closely held documents in all of federal law enforcement—highly confidential suspicious activity reports (SARs) filed by financial institutions with FinCEN,” according to Yahoo News correspondent Luppe B. Luppen.

But even if the Senate Republicans go no further, and even if US Attorney General Bill Barr does nothing with the alleged “dirt” on Biden, the damage may already be done.

Biden was not expected to perform well in Iowa or New Hampshire, where Democratic voters are mostly affluent and white, but he has been universally expected to perform well in South Carolina and Nevada, where Democratic voters are more racially and economically diverse. Recent polls in those states, however, show his number sliding. That suggests the GOP’s unrelenting lies about the former vice president are eroding his most salient message—that only he can defeat Trump.

Biden isn’t unique. The president and the Republicans can be expected to devise any number of methods for sabotaging the Democratic nominee, no matter who it is. There are no limits now that the Republicans have wedded Trump’s interests with the national interest, virtually turning us into a nation of men, not laws. Trump will demand interference by a hostile foreign power. Make no mistake: he will get it.

For this reason, Democratic voters must adjust their thinking. This is no longer a game in which everyone behaves according to “the rules.” This a slow-motion civil war in which the GOP is taking advantage of the liberal preference for fair play. Democrats see Republicans as mere opponents—or worse, as potential partners in compromise. The GOP, however, sees the Democrats as the enemy. Enemies must be destroyed.

Rachel Bitecofer has gotten attention lately for arguing there is no such thing as a swing voter. A political scientist at Virginia’s Christopher Newport University, she has urged the Democrats to settle on a nominee—any nominee—then concentrate on driving out as many Democratic voters as possible. Trump, Bitecofer said, defines the contours of the 2020 election. “The new electorate, as she forecasts it, is made up mostly of people who want a president named anything but Donald Trump, competing with another group that fears ruin should anyone but Donald Trump be president.”

That, however, requires expanding our thinking behind worrying about “negative partisanship.” That requires accepting reality—the Republicans are the enemy.