Impeachment is closing in on Trump, so Republicans are throwing a tantrum
When the going gets tough, Republicans throw tantrums.
Please, America, don't believe for a second that Republicans — led by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) — were committing some kind of principled civil disobedience on Wednesday when they stormed a closed-door hearing of the House Intelligence Committee. Gaetz and his colleagues talked about demanding transparency, but they didn't need to break into the meeting to get it: They could have just asked the GOP members of the committee for an update.
The point of this charade wasn't transparency or due process. It was disruption.
President Trump and his allies have never had much use for America's laws and institutions. As impeachment draws near, though, it is increasingly clear that for Trumpist members of the Republican Party, we have now entered the "that's a nice Congress you have there — be a shame if anything happened to it" phase of the proceedings.
Republicans say they are just trying to protect the sanctity of the 2016 election result, positioning themselves as democratic heroes for their actions. But in emphasizing that election, they implicitly discount the idea that Congress has a Constitutional role to play in holding presidents accountable — and that Democrats won elections of their own in order to carry out that responsibility.
"Their attempt to act like Freedom Riders is really an attack on the committee system in Congress." Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) pointed out afterwards.
There are three other takeaways from the showdown at Wednesday's impeachment hearing.
First, it should be evident that rioting is now an official part of the GOP playbook. Wednesday's intrusion by Gaetz and his colleagues was reminiscent of the "Brooks Brothers Riot" of 2000, an incident that took place as votes were recounted in Florida following the disastrous Bush-Gore presidential election that year. Republican operatives descended in force on the recount sites, disrupting the proceedings — eventually helping clinch the election for George W. Bush.
The precedent is clear: When the GOP is at risk of losing power, they will pull out all the stops to keep legal processes from continuing to their logical conclusion. Republicans can't stop the House from impeaching Trump — but they can make it frustrating and tiresome to do so.
Second, the disruptions don't do much for Republicans except — maybe — buy them a little time before impeachment goes down. The rioters on Wednesday managed to delay the impeachment hearing for five hours, but ultimately the House Intelligence Committee heard three hours of testimony from Laura K. Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia. And while her testimony was reportedly not as damaging to Trump as the evidence from other witnesses, it still functioned as another chink in the president's armor. Even Republicans close to the testimony had to admit it didn't look good for Trump.
"The picture coming out of it, based on the reporting that we've seen, I would say is not a good one," Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) told CNN.
Finally, while it is increasingly possible that the impeachment process will end with Trump's removal from office — though that is still, admittedly, a long shot — it appears that Gaetz, at least, has bet his future ambitions on embracing Trump. His role in disrupting Wednesday's hearing will not be forgotten soon, and he surely understands that. Which means that even if Trump himself is booted from office, Gaetz is betting on Trumpism continuing to appeal to Republican voters — and that his attractiveness to Trumpist voters is his best route to advancement.
So if you're hoping to see Trumpism banished from America's politics soon, you are bound to be disappointed — even if the impeachment process is successful. Trump cannot be president forever. He might not even be president by this time next year. But the seeds this president has planted in our political landscape will be flowering for years and decades to come.
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