Dear Trump Critics: Keep It Up

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- I was going to write about something else coming off a holiday weekend, but sometimes the main news is too important to ignore —such as when the president of the United States flatly states that he believes government prosecutions should be run for the benefit of his party:

The truth is that Donald Trump demonstrated he was unfit for the presidency when he allowed chants of “Lock her up” to break out at the Republican National Convention two years ago. And everyone within the Republican Party who has encouraged, or even tolerated, a partisan lynch-mob mentality has showed themselves to be unfit for office as well. It’s not a small step from urging the imprisonment of political enemies to believing that political allies should be immune from prosecution — it’s no step at all. It’s exactly the same undemocratic authoritarian impulse. 

It is, of course, even worse when the president does it. I know, I know, I’ve said this many times before, but we have to look at this stuff straight on and call it what it is: a violation of the president’s oath of office and an attempt to subvert the rule of law. 

What can be done about it? That’s a much harder question. Republican Senator Ben Sasse released a strong statement Monday blasting the president for acting as if the nation was a “banana republic.” That’s good, and the more Republicans who join him, the better — and the more the news media properly reports such same-party criticism as news, the better. 

Could Sasse and others do more? As Matt Glassman points out, it’s not easy for them to do so, even in a closely divided Senate. The odd situation is that there’s very little Trump wants. Republican senators are the ones who care, for example, about the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to a seat on the Supreme Court; that’s something Trump is doing for them, not something they are doing for him. It’s true that, should Kavanaugh lose, it might hurt Trump’s already-low approval ratings, which might hurt Republicans in the midterm elections, which certainly could unleash all kinds of problems for the president — but it would also be bad for Sasse and his party. 

And don’t overlook the importance of forceful denunciations, especially from same-party politicians. Not only can it affect public opinion directly, but that kind of criticism also has a way of building up over time, convincing those who pride themselves on neutrality to come out in defense of democracy and the rule of law even if it means taking sides against the president and (most of) his party. And that, in turn, tends to affect public opinion. There’s a reason Trump’s approval numbers are so low and his disapproval so high. 

All that said: Yes, Sasse and other occasional Republican Trump critics certainly could do more, from demanding more oversight hearings to acting to protect the independence of the Justice Department to, for example, forcing Trump to make his tax returns public (as every president from Richard Nixon through Barack Obama did). After all, the president has been mounting a full-on verbal assault on the independence of the Justice Department and the rule of law. It’s good to have Sasse denounce it. It would be good to have more of his colleagues join him. And it would be good if they followed up with more.

2. Erica Chenoweth and Jeremy Pressman at the Monkey Cage have the latest data on Trump-era protests. This time: what happened in June, which turned out to be a huge month for protests.

3. Also at the Monkey Cage: Michael A. Bailey, Cathy Lee and Erik Voeten on Trump’s massive unpopularity in nations that have been U.S. allies, and what the consequences may be. 

4. Dhrumil Mehta and Janie Velencia look at the contest between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke.

5. Alexia Fernández Campbell on Puerto Rico and statehood.

6. And Golden, Colorado, may lower the voting age to 16; John Aguilar reports.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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