It’s forgotten history at this point, but the stunningly over-hyped Hillary Clinton email server controversy that ultimately cost her the presidency grew out of a completely different Republican fishing expedition for evidence that, as secretary of state, she allowed (or masterminded or covered up—the theory of the case was somewhat unclear) the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
The Benghazi “scandal” and the ensuing investigations (all seven of them) were unspeakably ghoulish. From literally the moment Republicans realized Americans were under fire, they smelled a partisan attack (then–GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney made a political statement about it as the attacks were ongoing). When President Barack Obama won re-election anyhow, the political value of the Benghazi attacks migrated to Clinton, whom they rightly expected would be the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.
For four years, Republicans masked the naked political motivation for their Benghazi obsession with the blood of the dead. “Four Americans died” was a right-wing rallying cry until November 9.
A week after President Donald Trump took office, a U.S. Navy SEAL was killed in a botched raid of an Al Qaeda compound in Yemen, along with many civilians. It is perfectly reasonable to argue that Trump ought not be blamed for any particular aspect of the failure, apart from his decision to continue bad policy in Yemen. In dangerous parts of the world, people die. But by Republican standards, this should be a major, impeachment-worthy scandal. Unless there’s some arbitrary minimum number of U.S. casualties (greater than one but less than four) above which administrative heads should roll, there’s no standard by which Benghazi should have become the subject of a vast, conspiratorial inquest, but the botched raid in Yemen should not.
And yet, we are hearing no pieties about American lives from Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, no sense that the cause of the failure should be investigated, let alone that Trump’s role in it should be a major investigative focal point.
It is through events like Benghazi that we see just how paper-thin the GOP’s commitments to its most defining ideals really are. What Republicans have held forth as fundamental principles are, thanks to Trump’s election, revealed as hollow bromides and shibboleths. Trump will likely be president for at least four years; but starting now, and through the eventual end of GOP rule, we never have to take Republican sanctimony at face value again, and their phoniness ought to be a commanding narrative of the Trump era.
Over the weekend, Trump referred to James Robart, a George W. Bush appointee who temporarily enjoined his anti-Muslim immigration order, as a “so-called judge,” and directed his Twitter followers to blame future terrorist attacks on Robart and the entire court system.
This is the second federal judge Trump has attacked directly and his most undisguised assault on the judiciary in general since he became a national political figure. With a handful of exceptions—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell notably said “it’s best not to single out judges for criticism”—Republicans on Capitol Hill have decided to pretend nothing happened.
Given the understated nature of their response to Trump’s shameless and dangerous assault on the integrity of the judiciary, would you believe that when President Obama politely disagreed with the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision…
…conservatives lost their minds?
Whereas Trump’s efforts to discredit the judiciary need to be resisted, he is free, as far as I’m concerned, to undermine the National Prayer Breakfast however he chooses. To that end, he couldn’t have done better than plugging The Apprentice during his speech there last week. He asked attendees to pray for the show’s ratings, knowing evangelical conservatives would stick their heads in the sand, as they have for all of Trump’s unholy outrages.
It shouldn’t be forgotten, though, that many of these same evangelicals were beside themselves (or claimed to be) when Obama implored Christian critics of Islam to be mindful of terrible things that have been done throughout history in the name of Jesus Christ.
Hypocrisy is a third-rate political crime. But it isn’t just that conservatives apply different standards to different politicians on the basis of partisan affiliation; it’s that their appeals to like-minded voters are fraudulent. National security, rule of law, and religious faith are supposed to be central facets of conservative identity. Presumably some Republican voters around the country are genuinely motivated by conservative views on these issues. For the time being, it’s up to Democrats and the media to make clear to these voters that the GOP’s commitment to their principles is illusory.
But eventually Trump’s presidency will end, and just as quickly as they abandoned these pieties, Republicans will try to reclaim them. It will be a major failure of politics, and perhaps also the media, if they succeed in doing so. Republicans outed themselves when they submitted to Trump, and they can’t be allowed to pretend it never happened.