Editor’s Note: Julian Zelizer, a CNN political analyst, is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University and author of the forthcoming book, “Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, the Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party.” Follow him on Twitter: @julianzelizer. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at CNN.
Two weeks of impeachment hearings have revealed as much about the Republican Party as they did about the President’s actions toward Ukraine.
House Republicans barely twitched as one witness after another testified about Trump’s efforts to withhold assistance and diplomatic meetings with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in exchange for an investigation into his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Republican congressmen like California’s Devin Nunes, the ranking member, and Ohio’s Jim Jordan relentlessly shouted out conspiracy theories and questioned the veracity of witnesses as if they could hear nothing of the testimony the witnesses just given.
The Republican lawmakers spent as much time castigating the “fake media” and the “Russia hoax” as they did the matter at hand. They conducted a purely talking-point hearing with an intended audience of three: President Trump, Fox News hosts, and the Republican base.
Coming from a party that until relatively recently had been united on a tough national security posture toward countries such as Russia, there was a striking lack of outrage about the President’s strong-arming of a key ally on the frontlines of the effort to contain Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive actions.
Republicans parroted the administration’s efforts to paint Trump as an anti-corruption warrior when he has acted in the opposite fashion both overseas and at home, showing no interest in maintaining clear lines between the public interest and his own private interests.
His embrace of Putin, whose government is awash in corruption, is an obvious example of the big lie. Indeed, just one day after a hawkish former national security official, Fiona Hill, warned of the dangers of promoting the “fictional narrative” of the Crowdstrike conspiracy theory — that Ukraine, not Russia, sought to undermine the 2016 election — President Trump called into “Fox & Friends” on Friday to repeat the story: “They [the Democratic National Committee] gave the server to Crowdstrike,” he said.
Republicans remained silent.
If it is not yet clear to some, Republicans are all-in when it comes to President Trump. They are willing to defend him from being impeached and are committed to promoting what they say he has accomplished since 2017. But they are also happy to promote his most controversial rhetoric while endorsing, with their silence, his abuse of presidential power, his endangerment of our national security, and the global stability.
Even the House Republican who some have painted as somewhat moderate, Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, made clear yesterday that after two weeks of devastating testimony, he is nowhere closer to voting for any articles of impeachment against this president.
As I have argued before, President Trump did not change the Republican Party. He is a product of a new GOP. But what the President exposes is how much the GOP has changed: how the pursuit of partisan power now overwhelms almost any concern for norms, governance and, to some extent, national security.
If Democrats were hoping that the revelation of damaging information would rationally persuade congressional Republicans to take a second look at this administration, they were wrong.
If Democrats were hoping that straightforward questions — Is it legitimate for presidents to withhold foreign aid to help their reelection campaigns? Is President Trump concerned about corruption overseas? — would somehow pressure the GOP into giving honest answers, they were wrong.
This is now what the congressional Republicans are all about. Their focus is to protect their power in the Senate, do as much as possible to protect and expand their numbers in the House, and shore up the Republican electorate going into the presidential election. Everything else is secondary.
Of course, things can always change. As we learned with Watergate, every politician and party have a breaking point. But this week’s hearings were instructive about where the Republican Party stands as of Thanksgiving 2019.
Rather than having a debate about whether the President’s actions were impeachable, Republicans instead treated the nation to a week of wild-eyed accusations that simply pushed aside the alarming reality that credible witnesses — public servants all — laid before them.