Is it treason yet?
Would anyone still be shocked to learn that most Republicans are untroubled by the Kremlin’s efforts to manipulate our politics? The appalling truth is that millions of Republicans — more than 10 percent, according to a new survey by Yahoo Finance/Survey Monkey — would actually approve of Russian interference in the midterm elections. And nearly 30 percent say they wouldn’t really object to such an intervention, presumably so long as the Russians remain supportive of Trump and the Republican Party.
Given the decades of continuing enmity between the Russian Federation and the United States, not to mention the illegal nature of foreign meddling in our elections, these sentiments are tantamount to treason. That label would certainly be applied to Democrats instantly if they were to ever express such tolerant attitudes toward an attempted political coup by a hostile power. But Republicans, both in the Party leadership and the Trump-inflected “base,” seem increasingly receptive to a Kremlin takeover.
One revelation after another has demonstrated just how receptive they are. Leaving aside President Donald Trump’s own highly compromised relationship with Moscow, we have repeatedly seen evidence that the Republicans either don’t care about or even welcome the Russian incursions.
The House Republican leadership was well aware two years ago that the Kremlin had established dubious connections not only with Trump but also with one of their members, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told the Republican caucus that he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin was paying Trump and Rohrabacher. At that point, House Speaker Paul Ryan broke in to warn the Republican members not to mention these suspicions outside the caucus room. When the conversation leaked, they claimed to be joking.
But of course it wasn’t a joke, and it isn’t a joke now. Both Rohrabacher and Trump openly behave like Putin’s most abject stooges, whether the Kremlin boss is actually paying them or not.
Worse still, Ryan and the House leadership have encouraged Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., to misuse his position as House Intelligence Committee chair to frustrate the investigation of Russia’s attack on the 2016 election that he should be leading, and to hinder the Office of Special Counsel probe. Ryan has made zero effort to defend our country against the Kremlin’s ongoing assault. Just last week, Facebook management revealed that it suspects Russians were using pages on the social media mammoth to meddle in the midterms — and had shut down those pages.
With very few exceptions, Republicans in Washington watch mutely as the president of the United States dismantles our diplomatic and trade capacities, wrecks our international alliances, drives away our friends, dishonors our values and destroys the prestige our country once enjoyed. His actions don’t serve our interests, as those Republican officials know very well, but they can’t even clear their throats to protest.
For anyone who ever believed that the Republican Party stands for patriotism and freedom, as advertised, this sudden subservience to a foreign dictator must be stunning. But others have observed the rise of authoritarian ideologies among Republican constituencies for a long time.
That trend is rooted in the radical assault on democratic values led by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich during Bill Clinton’s presidency, and it gathered force after President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney traduced the Constitution under the “unitary presidency.” The rhetoric of insurrection became fashionable in certain right-wing circles, especially when a Democrat was in the White House, as did notions of religious and racial superiority.
The American right might have continued to admire Putin from a safer distance, but that is no longer possible under the Trump regime. We may soon learn whether Trump’s willingness to compromise his country justified former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s accusation of treason. And Republicans who seek partisan benefit from Russian intrusions will risk that same disgrace.
Joe Conason is a nationally