With each passing day, the ongoing attempts of Republican elected officials to defend President Donald Trump’s behavior are getting more and more ridiculous.
The latest example? Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson’s pained and downright bad attempt to change the subject when asked by NBC’s “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd to explain a quote he gave to The Wall Street Journal.
Here’s the start of that exchange:
CHUCK TODD: Let me start with something you told The Wall Street Journal late last week. You had said when Mr. Sondland – Gordon Sondland seemed to imply that – the frozen military aid was connected to a promise by Zelensky for investigations, you said, “At that suggestion, I winced. My reaction was, ‘Oh God. I don’t wanna see those two things combined.’” Why did you wince and what did you mean by “those two things combined?”
SEN. RON JOHNSON: Well, fir– first of all, your setup piece was –you know, typically, very unbiased. But, you know, le – let me first, before I started answering all the detailed questions, let me just talk about why I’m pretty sympathetic with what President Trump has gone through. You know, I’m 64 years old. I have never in my lifetime seen a president, after being elected, not having some measure of well wishes from his opponents. I’ve never seen a president’s administration be sabotaged from the day after election. I – I’ve never seen – no– no measure of honeymoon whatsoever. And so what President Trump’s had to endure, a false accusation – by the way, you’ve got John Brennan on – you oughta ask Director Brennan what did Peter Strzok mean when he texted Lisa Page on December 15th, 2016?
Uh, what? (You should read the transcript, the interview only went downhill from there.)
Again, what Todd is asking here is for Johnson to further explain his own quote about “wincing” at the suggestion that military aid might be linked to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s willingness to investigate Joe Biden. This isn’t some sort of “gotcha” question. Johnson said it! And recently!
Johnson’s response – Strzok! Page! “deep state!” – has nothing to do with what Todd asked him. Which, again, was to explain a quote he gave to The Wall Street Journal about ‘wincing” when he heard that there might have been linkage between military aid and investigations in Ukraine.
What the hell does the that quote – and Trump’s broader actions in Ukraine – have to do with former FBI lawyer Lisa Page and former FBI agent Peter Strzok? Yes, Strzok was removed from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team when texts with Page (whom he was having an affair with) emerged that seemed to suggest anti-Trump bias. And yes, the Justice Department is investigating the roots of the counter-intelligence investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
But none of those things have anything to do with the fact that Trump pressured Zelensky to investigate Biden – first in a transcript of a July call released by the White House and then right there in public last week outside the White House.
Trump telling Ukraine – and China! – to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter, has literally zero to do with Lisa Page or Peter Strzok. Nothing. (There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden, by the way).
That Johnson tried to turn a simple question into some sort of deep state conspiracy theory speaks volumes about the current state of the Republican Party and Trump. They know that any attempt to be reasonable – like, say, the President probably shouldn’t ask foreign leaders to dig dirt on his main political opponent – will be met with anger and attack from this President. (See Romney, Willard Mitt). And because Trump still commands the hearts and minds of the Republican base, very few GOP elected officials are willing to risk the President’s ire.
The problem with that approach, of course, is that it forces you to defend the indefensible. Whether it’s Johnson’s oh-yeah-but-what-about-the-deep-state argument or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R) attempt to dismiss Trump’s urgings to the Chinese as a joke – do the Chinese know it’s a joke??? – this is all transparent politicking.
Take politics out of it (or switch the party in power), and every single one of the 53 Republican senators would tell you that a US president calling on foreign powers to investigate his likeliest general election opponent isn’t the sort of thing America should be doing – and certainly isn’t the sort of thing we should be condoning.
But Republicans latched themselves to Trump years ago. And there’s no turning back now – no matter how much logic you have to murder to defend the President’s indefensible conduct.