Donald Trump has been in office for three years. His dishonest and abrasive behavior, words, and actions on a regular basis have raised questions among many people: “When will congressional Republicans stand up to him? When will they say ‘enough is enough?’” After three years, I am afraid to say, probably never. He has hijacked the party and its elected officials who fear him and his tweets. Red states and gerrymandered/one-Party GOP districts will turn on them if they are not sufficiently loyal to him.
It never used to be that way.
I was Chief of Staff to Pennsylvania’s Republican Senator Hugh Scott during the Watergate era. In the summer of 1974, the Nixon scandals were running at fever pitch. The nation had been through the Senate Watergate hearings and the “Saturday Night Massacre” which saw the resignations and firings of top Justice Department officials.
The Senate’s hearings revealed that President Nixon had taped his Oval Office meetings. After a series of court fights, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in July 1974 that the tapes must be released, and they were.
At the same time, the House Judiciary Committee was preparing its articles of impeachment: As the Senate’s Republican Leader, it was Scott’s job to keep his GOP colleagues unified and in support of the President. When the tapes were released, that unity collapsed, especially with the release of the August 5 “smoking gun” tape that documented the initial stages of the cover-up of the Watergate break-in. And in a fateful lunch the next day in the Capitol, Senate Republicans, almost one-by-one, said that they had seen enough and had enough. Even the most loyal and conservative in the room wanted Nixon to resign. Scott was ready to make his move.
One day after the Senate Republican lunch, Scott asked his Arizona colleague Barry Goldwater to join with him and House Republican Leader John Rhodes in an afternoon meeting with the President. They decided, as the senior Republicans in Congress, to tell Nixon the bad news. All of them told Nixon that the House (with many Republicans) would certainly impeach him, and that more than enough Senate Republicans would join the Chamber’s majority Democrats in convicting him and removing him from office.
Nixon did not protest. He resigned two days later.
Now we contrast that situation with the current impeachment process and the current occupant of the White House. While the House has not advanced its investigation very far, almost every majority Democrat has already come out for impeachment. At the same time, almost every Republican in the House is supporting President Trump.
It is a foregone conclusion that should articles of impeachment be sent to the House floor for a vote, they would pass easily with near universal Democratic support. In the Democratic Senate, nary a Republican has dared to come forward with any meaningful comment or criticism, while the Democrats approach lockstep opposition to Trump. In any impeachment trial, the Senate is both judge and jury, requiring that two-thirds of Senators vote to convict. At least twenty Republicans would have to be willing to convict President Trump, which is not the case now and is unlikely to ever be.
I have been a Republican all my life—I was formerly President of Lower Merion’s Board of Commissioners and Chairman of Montgomery County’s Republican Party. My views here do not come lightly.
The Republican Party of today is not the Republican Party of 1974. Its core values and core positions on issues are now relics of the past. The base of the Republican Party today has answered Trump’s call to nativism and isolationism. And it is this base which has sent these members of Congress to Washington to represent its narrow interests.
It pains me to see how my Party has devolved into cult worship of a man with no Republican principles. It doesn’t have to be that way.