Since at least the start of the Cold War, Republicans have insisted that they’re the tough ones. Unlike “bleeding heart liberals,” Republicans are the Daddy Party, the hard-boiled realists who see the world for the dangerous place it really is. To protect your freedoms, vote Republican, because Democrats are weaklings and Republicans love America more. That’s been the Republican argument, non-stop, for decades.
You can see it in Nevada political campaigns right now. Republican operatives and GOP-friendly media are blasting Democratic candidate for governor Steve Sisolak and Democratic candidate for attorney general Aaron Ford for being photographed among activists with an upside down U.S. flag in the background.
The Republican Governors Association piled on, telling its website’s readers, or more likely, hoping to tell its donors, that Sisolak “refuses to condemn flag desecration.” And a spokesman for Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt told The Blaze that Sisolak “held a press conference with the desecration of the American flag as his backdrop.”
In the race for U.S. Senate, Republican Dean Heller’s campaign is still trying to wring media mileage out of attacking Democratic challenger Rep. Jacky Rosen because she attended a fundraiser with actress Jane Fonda last spring.
During the Nixon administration, Fonda outraged Republicans by visiting North Vietnam while protesting the war. Now 80, Fonda is delightfully stodgy-not-stodgy in the Netflix series Grace and Frankie, but I digress. For Rosen to associate with Fonda is, according to Heller, not just “disrespectful” to Vietnam veterans, but “indefensible.”
The last two presidential nominees in Heller’s party prior to Donald Trump, John McCain and Mitt Romney, blasted Trump’s sycophantic cowering before Vladimir Putin in Helsinki Monday as “disgraceful” and “disgusting,” respectively. The critique from McCain — the country’s most famous Vietnam veteran — was particularly brutal: “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.”
From Fox News hosts to Fox News affiliates such as the Republican-controlled Congress, condemnations of Trump’s “weak” and “shameful” “caving” to Trump were legion. The typically Trump-friendly Wall Street Journal editorial page called Trump’s “kowtow to the Kremlin” a “national embarrassment.”
Trump was colluding, in plain sight for all to see, with a murderer and a thief whose missions include destroying U.S. stability and influence and undermining democracy around the globe. Putin was enjoying every minute of it, relishing the debasement of a nation that the former KGB agent has spent his entire life trying to sabotage. U.S. domestic turmoil, a U.S. administration at odds with its closest allies, the U.S. losing its moorings, and there at his side, a befuddled quisling U.S. president doing Putin’s bidding — no one is happier with the Trump presidency than Putin.
It was as nauseating as it was infuriating.
Unless, evidently, you were a Nevada Republican.
While more nimble Trump apologists felt compelled to quickly call out Trump’s obsequious performance Monday, Heller quietly dithered the day away. When Heller finally issued a statement late in the day, he asserted that “Putin is no friend of the United States and I do not trust him.” But Heller stopped short of even mentioning Trump’s name, let alone criticizing him, and said nothing at all about Trump’s fawning subservience to Putin.
Rep. Mark Amodei, Nevada’s only Republican in the House of Represenatives and Trump’s 2016 Nevada campaign manager, similarly mistook Trump for Voldemort, refusing to name the president in a statement that was even more wishy-washy than Heller’s.
Laxalt’s campaign, meantime, said nothing at all. Pandering to an authoritarian ruler of a hostile power and rendering the U.S. a global laughingstock … well, it’s not as if Trump inadvertently got his picture taken with an upside down flag.
On Tuesday, more than 24 hours after the awe-struck Trump stood side-by-side with Putin and marveled at the murdering tyrant’s “extremely strong and powerful denial” that Russia interfered with — and by extension assisted — Trump’s precious election, Trump half-heartedly tried to clean up his Helsinki omnishambles by saying he misspoke.
Heller really, really wanted to believe him. Trump “has since walked back those comments. And I hope they’re sincere. And I believe that he is,” Heller said during a telephone town hall later that night. “And now that he has changed his position I am pleased that he has done so.”
Trump hadn’t changed his position (he wouldn’t do that until the next day, and then the day after that, and then again the day after that). Rather, Trump had insisted that his position had been misunderstood by the vile news media, which, according to Trump, should have obviously understood that when he said “would” what he really meant to say was “wouldn’t.”
But the first in the series of Trump walk-backs was good enough for Heller. Perhaps Trump’s most ardent and faithful acolytes, in whose eyes the great man can do no wrong, believed Trump’s ludicrous would/wouldn’t song & dance. Heller at least claimed to. After all, it’s not as if Trump had done something that truly harmed the national interest such as, say, recklessly campaigning with Jane Fonda.
Meantime, in the real world, the one that exists outside of Nevada’s campaign trail, Trump’s recklessness has put U.S. stability, security and freedom at risk. Trump has done next to nothing at the executive level to protect the 2018 elections from manipulation by hostile powers, while his housetrained Republicans in the U.S. House refuse to authorize spending to help states ward against attacks on democracy. Three-fourths of federal agencies examined in an Office of Management and Budget study were deemed vulnerable to cyber attack. Trump’s own Director of National Intelligence warns that “the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack,” and “Russia has been the most aggressive foreign actor – no question.”
Given Trump’s pathetic performance while standing next to Putin in public, the prospect of what Trump may have said — or given — to Putin in private makes one cringe. And one can only imagine the misgivings U.S. allies must have about sharing sensitive information with the U.S., out of fear that it might make its way up to an erratic, petulant president who praises enemies, insults friends, is prone to talking before thinking, and seems sympathetic to Putin’s desire to see NATO disintegrate.
Over the decades, much of the GOP’s blustering militarism has been cynically calculated for campaign trail consumption, about as relevant to our security as the Nevada GOP’s faux outrage over an upside down flag or the Heller campaign’s attacks on the star of Cat Ballou.
And goodness knows the nation’s persistent tendency, of which both parties have been guilty, to delude itself into thinking there is nothing that can’t be fixed by military aggression has had disastrous, long-term consequences, most recently in the Middle East.
But for all the blundering and bluster and arrogance and mayhem, since becoming the dominant world power at the end of World War II, the U.S. has also relied upon leaders in both parties who make national security their top priority. Those hawks need to be tempered. But they also need to be heard.
It’s campaign season. Campaigns are insufferably stupid. Nevada Republicans will wave their right-side up flags and thump their chests with all the campaign-ready patriotism they can muster. And all while tying themselves to and enabling a dangerously unfit president. It is weirdly out of character for Republicans to so blithely turn a blind eye to genuine threats to U.S. security. It is also, to borrow Heller’s word, “indefensible.”