Adam Jentleson used to be deputy chief of staff for US Senator Harry Reid. He wrote an op-ed for the Times Tuesday outlining concerns familiar to Editorial Board readers. Our nightmare won’t end with Donald Trump’s end. “If Mr. Biden wins, there will be a temptation to embrace a big lie: Mr. Trump was the problem, and with him gone, the Republican Party can return to normal,” Jentleson wrote. “But today’s Republican Party won’t moderate itself, because Trumpism is its natural state. Democrats should avoid the temptation to expect Republican cooperation in governing this country.”
I think Jentleson is putting things mildly. About 40 percent of the electorate approves of the president, whether he’s engaged in sabotage, corruption or negligent homicide. Those people will be with us after the election. If Joe Biden becomes president, he will no doubt order a national face-mask mandate in a bid to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. The Republican Party will in turn mount resistance to the new president the way they did to Barack Obama, even though the effort will surely leave in its wake dead Republican voters aplenty. As I wrote Tuesday, “they will fight ‘big government tyranny’ even if that fight leads to self-destruction.” The question is whether the Democrats, in seeking good-faith governing partners, are going to play along.
If anyone doubts the futility of finding good-faith governing partners in the ranks of the Republican Party, let them consider Tuesday’s release of a nearly 1,000-page bipartisan report by the Senate Intelligence Committee (the fifth of five installments). Here’s how Patrick Tucker, an editor at the national security publication Defense One, led his reporting: “President Donald Trump’s friend and campaign advisor Roger Stone was in active discussion with Wikileaks to learn about future Russian information dumps and to help the Trump campaign,” he wrote. “Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort was also in conversations with Kremlin-backed oligarchs and Russian intelligence officers, and was trading inside campaign information in an effort to draw down his personal financial debt. It’s a picture of a campaign willfully soliciting help from a hostile foreign power and providing valuable intelligence.” (Italics mine.)
The report concludes explicitly “no collusion” between Trump and Russian agents, but the actual facts of the actual report actually contradict that conclusion, according to Lawfare’s Benjamin Wittes. Before outlining instances in which it kinda sorta really does look a lot like collusion, Wittes writes: “What Senate Republicans are saying about their own report comes perilously close to simple lying.” In a press release, the Senate’s current majority leader appears to be all-in on the big lie. “Their report reaffirms Special Counsel Mueller’s finding that President Trump did not collude with Russia,” said Mitch McConnell, “These serious threats need to unite our nation. We can’t afford for them to just further divide us. That is exactly what our adversaries want.”
Let’s leave aside for the moment a few things. One, that McConnell is gaslighting the hell out of us. Two, that the president cheated once. Three, that he cheated twice when he extorted Ukraine’s president into an international criminal conspiracy to defraud the American people (for the second time). Four, that his goons (namely, Rudy Giuliani) continue seeking “dirt” on Biden from Vladimir Putin’s patsies in the Ukrainian government even after the president was impeached for doing just that. Five, that Trump retweeted that “dirt” on Sunday. Six, that the Senate Republicans decided against removing him from office despite knowing what he was doing, therefore establishing a precedent by which future presidents can safely commit treason.
Let’s leave one through six aside for a moment to focus on this latest report so we can ask: Can the Democrats trust the Republicans to govern in the country’s best interest when they have shown they can’t be trusted to say what’s in their own report about the president’s collusion with a foreign dictator who continues to mount a cyber-offensive to impact the outcome of this year’s election? No can do, I think we can safely say. It’s time to zap the filibuster among other reforms that would reshape the electorate as well as the structure of government, but a President Biden and his Democrats must do more. They must insist on the investigation and prosecution of a former president. Trust cannot be reestablished without reestablishing justice and accountability first.
For those worried about the precedent this would create, it’s already created. US Attorney General Bill Barr appointed prosecutor John Durham, a US attorney from Connecticut, to investigate the investigation of Trump’s collusion with the Russians. His mandate, wrote The Globalist’s Frank Vogl, is to find “evidence” supporting the president’s claim of a “Russia hoax.” “The Durham report could call for indictments against former Justice Department, FBI and other intelligence agency officials,” Vogl wrote. “Perhaps, it could even include people who served in Obama’s White House. The aim is crude: To demonstrate that the Obama-Biden Administration was crooked.” The aim could be much more than that. Twice in two days, Trump said he’s owed a third term: “Considering we caught President Obama and sleepy Joe Biden spying on our campaign—treason—we’ll probably be entitled to another four more years.”
For those worried about an investigation being partisan, consider this. Sixty-six percent of Americans said in May that they’d take a coronavirus vaccine if one were available today. That dropped 10 points a month later, almost certainly due to the president’s propaganda. The Republicans can be expected to carry on that theme long after Trump, as they foment resistance to a new administration. In the process of seeking partisan advantage, they will endanger the entire populace. They do not have incentive to change right now. They will not have incentive to change in the future.
Put a former president in jail, however, and they will.