Congressional Republicans afraid to come out and say that Donald Trump has engaged in impeachable behavior aren’t only afraid of Trump himself. They’re also living in fear of a smear network in the right-wing media, social media, and blogosphere, ready to respond to any hint of criticism of Trump with everything from insults to outright lies.
Every Republican to offer so much as a whiff of criticism of Trump has faced this onslaught, The Washington Post reports. Sen. Mitt Romney tweeted that “If the President asked or pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme.” Romney was then accused of having ties to Burisma, the company that former Vice President Joe Biden’s son was associated with. The ties? One of his mid-level 2012 campaign advisers joined Burisma’s board in 2017. Rush Limbaugh also piled on with false claims that Romney had consulted with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Sen. Chuck Grassley spoke up for whistleblowers, an issue he’s known to care about. Gateway Pundit saw this as a desertion: “So much for the Republican leaders in the Senate defending President Trump against the continuation of the attempted coup.” Sen. Ben Sasse and Rep. Adam Kinzinger were accused, respectively, of “stabbing [Trump] in the back” and being a “spineless sellout.”
Any Republican tempted to step out of line even an inch has gotten the message: We’ll come for you next. That’s why if Republicans do start breaking with Trump, it’s likely to start with a group, for safety in numbers. But even those who retain some shred of decency or concern for the Constitution or democracy may simply be too weak and scared to stand against the bulk of their party, which is now consumed by the drive for power over all else.