When Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein first published “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks” in the spring of 2012, they were shunned almost unanimously by a national media that had theretofore adored them. Their thesis that the Republican Party had become an extremist group representative of only a well-heeled ideological fringe — an “insurgent outlier,” to use their terminology — was a bridge too far. Virtually overnight, they lost their status as respected political analysts and were relegated to smaller niche outlets catering only to a liberal audience.
If the increasingly destructive behavior of the formerly-grand old party in the interceding six years were insufficient to exonerate Messrs. Mann and Ornstein, recent news is more than enough to vindicate them: The FBI is once again investigating the Clinton Foundation, and congressional Republicans are more concerned with arresting the author of the Trump-Russia dossier than investigating the Kremlin’s influence over Donald Trump’s campaign and our national election.
The first story would be a farce were it not such a brazen affront to our democracy. Donald Trump, his son, his former campaign manager, his former national security adviser and the near totality of his campaign team are either under investigation or under indictment; even Mr. Trump’s private attorney has retained an attorney of his own for good measure. While the current occupants of the White House are suspected of colluding with the Kremlin and are known to have benefited from a disinformation campaign waged by Russian intelligence, their revival of a defunct investigation into a political rival is a disgusting abuse of power and a desperate ploy to distract concerned Americans.
In our cherished republican form of government, those who hold public office do not use the tools of law enforcement to pursue their political opponents. The fact that Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions may be directing this sham as an attempt to improve the image of his PR-sensitive boss relative to a former rival is unimportant. So too, for that matter, is the fact that the investigation is being conducted by the Justice Department into the Clinton Foundation rather than by Donald Trump’s personal employees into Secretary Clinton herself. Mr. Trump’s galling attempt to solicit personal loyalty from former FBI Director James Comey proves definitively that he makes no distinction between the relationship he has with his private sector employees and the government agencies of which his public office is the titular head.
The second story is the latest in a string that shows the shameless complicity of congressional Republicans during the rule of Mr. Trump. Time and again, Republicans have shown themselves to be powerless in the face of the donors who fund their campaigns and Mr. Trump, who riles their base. What is perhaps different this time is that rather than turning a blind eye to Mr. Trump’s threats to the rule of law, two Senate Republicans have themselves made a mockery of it for his personal benefit.
In an age of round-the-clock hype and cable news, it can be easy to forget — or disregard altogether — just what is at stake here. It is beyond dispute that the Russian government directed its operatives to confuse and misinform American voters on social media before the 2016 election. The only questions that remain are whether Russian operatives also directly compromised the integrity of our elections and whether any members of the Trump campaign willfully assisted Russia in its mission to undermine our free and open elections. It’s clear that certain members of the campaign lacked the basic intelligence needed to avoid unwittingly assisting Russia, and so long as Mr. Trump remains in office, it is equally clear that the questions of how we prevent additional Russian attacks on future elections and how we respond to Russia’s 2016 attack will not be answered.
Republican Senators Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) and Charles Grassley (Iowa) have proven that their party in the Senate will not only bend to the will of Mr. Trump and fellow billionaires, but that they will pervert the intentions of an investigation into a matter of national security to shield a fellow Republican. In the same action, they also abdicated their constitutional responsibility as members of a separate, co-equal branch of government to check abuses of power from the executive.
If Republicans do not count as “insurgent outliers” for misusing law enforcement to distract from bad press or for derailing an investigation into an attack on American democracy in order to save a fellow partisan, what more must they do to qualify?
Christian Hanley (christianmhanley.com) is a Democratic strategist and author of a forthcoming book "Optimized: American Excellence in the 21st Century."