Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., got himself tied up in knots over the alleged sexual predations that have convulsed his party. Commenting on the resignation of Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., he told NBC’s Chuck Todd he was “very glad women have had the courage to step forward.” He declared that men “need to be held accountable.” He even invoked his own daughters. This behavior is “reprehensible,” he intoned.
What about President Donald Trump? Oh, he was “duly elected,” said Johnson. Huh? Wasn’t Franken? Well, he doesn’t want Roy Moore in the Senate, right? “The voters of Alabama will choose,” he said. Then the ethics committee will deal with it.
This moral incoherence is understandable, given that the GOP has chosen to stand by Trump. You’re going to sound fairly hypocritical if you can tout courageous victims and insist on holding men accountable, while not demanding that Trump resign or at the very least give the women a forum to have their allegations heard. And how in the world could Johnson and other Republicans support him for a second term?
Johnson isn’t the only human pretzel on this issue. Both Sens. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., are terribly disturbed, very insistent that the National Republican Senatorial Committee not endorse or spend money to support Moore. If it did, they’re out of there! Umm. Why aren’t they leaving the Republican Party, then? The Republican National Committee is spending tens of thousands of dollars on Moore. In addition, Trump has endorsed Moore. So why aren’t Sasse and Gardner bugging out the GOP? Well, the RNC’s actions, says Sasse, are merely “bad and sad.” Gardner told the Weekly Standard, “Roy Moore will never have the support of the senatorial committee. We will never endorse him. We won’t support him. I won’t let that happen. Nothing will change. I stand by my previous statement.” And what about Trump’s endorsement? Oh, “We’ve taken a different position. I think our position is right,” he says meekly. He does vow to expel Moore, though. But - why is Trump still there?
Again, the moral coherence is lost in a series of contradictory impulses. (Get Moore out! But don’t offend the base! But get on record as opposing Moore! Wait - don’t break with Trump!) The lack of political courage and consistency is quite striking.
These Republicans look ridiculous, but they won’t be the only ones. Every single Republican in every single federal race (and maybe some state races, too) will be asked how he or she can condemn Moore and stick by Trump, or favor Franken’s resignation but not call for Trump’s. There is no good answer to explain away these glaring inconsistencies. It won’t go unnoticed by voters or Democrats in next year’s elections. The point will be made in interviews, debates and ads that Republicans tolerate and therefore enable a president who allegedly assaulted women. The point will be underscored that the party itself endorsed and funded an accused child molester.
So what’s a Republican to do or say? It would be refreshing to hear one of these guys say flat-out that they made a bargain with the devil, that getting a cruddy health-care bill is more important than victims of sexual assault. Spare the hypocrisy, in other words, and just spell out the rationalization you’ve come up with. That, however, will be quite off-putting to many voters . But Gorsuch! But a 20 (or is it 22?) percent corporate tax rate! It sounds crass, amoral and small to pine for political gains with not even a nod to human decency.
So instead, Republicans will spin and squirm, as Johnson, Moore, Sasse and Gardner have done. We’ll see if that repulses voters enough to knock out the party of Trump and Moore from the House and Senate majorities and, in 2020, out of the White House. In the meantime, these guys should try listening to themselves - or reciting their talking points to their wives.
Jennifer Rubin is a Washington Post columnist.