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The Perils and Potential of Republican Apostasy in the Age of Trump

There’s no doubt that pretty much every Republican in Congress goes home at night and complains at length to his or her spouse about something President Donald Trump said or did, and probably so do most of the people who work in the White House, but they rarely air their grievances in public. They’re afraid that Trump will “tweet” something nasty and give them a taunting nickname, and are sure that most of their party’s loyalists will consider them traitors to the cause.
There have been a few Republicans who have been willing to voice the occasional disagreement with Trump, mostly farm state politicians whose constituents have seen their profits diminished by Trump’s wars, along with a couple of others who were heading to retirement anyway, but so far only Michigan Rep. Justin Amash has been so bold as to say that Trump has committed impeachable offenses. Trump quickly responded via “Twitter” that Amash was a “total lightweight,” but it doesn’t seem to have intimidated the congressman, who wound up getting a standing ovation at his first public appearance in Michigan’s third district since he proclaimed his Republican apostasy.
The crowd at Amash’s “town hall” meeting in Grand Rapids on Tuesday obviously included a lot of Democrats, many of whom probably previously hated his staunch conservatism, but there were undoubtedly some Republicans who also stood up and applauded. One Republican woman in a red “Make America Great Again” ball cap berated Amash for his disloyalty to Trump, and when the audience started booing her Amash pleaded that she be treated with respect and allow her to ask a question, which eventually turned out to be why Amash had become a Democrat. He responded that his record on such traditional Republican principles as fiscal conservatism is far more impeccable than Trump’s, and even the Democrats in the audience cheered. There was another Republican woman with a t-shirt emblazoned by something we couldn’t read who asked a similar question about Amash’s views on impeachment, and he responded with a brief restatement of his lengthy and factual and logical reasons for thinking Trump has committed impeachable offenses. He then rightly noted that the rebuttals to his arguments, including those from his party’s leadership, have all been ad hominem fallacies
Grand Rapids is the hometown of the late and vastly underrated President Gerald Ford, who took office in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal and epitomized an old-fashioned sort of Republicanism that stressed fiscal conservatism and prudence in foreign policy and the character of an office-holder, and Amash strikes us as a perfect Representative for the district. He’s far more libertarian than Ford was, which we quite like, and we hope he’ll fare well in his next campaign. He’s already got a more Trump-loving primary challenger, who will surely win Trump’s endorsement, but if he somehow survives the challenge he’s a shoo-in for the general election, as Trump wouldn’t dare endorse the Democrat.
If he doesn’t win renomination, which is quite possible, it’s not necessarily the end of Amash’s political career. He’s not ruled out the possibility of challenging Trump as a Libertarian Party candidate in ’20, and he’s already raised his name recognition for any races that might happen in the inevitable post-Trump era of Republican politics, when some record of resistance will surely be helpful.
Republican critics of Amash insist he’s a publicity-seeking grandstander, and ironically they do so in defense of the unabashedly grandstanding and publicity-seeking Trump, but we figure his risky stand is better explained by principle than pragmatism. So far the lengthy and detailed and well-documented arguments he’s laid out for Trump’s impeachment have only been rebutted by ad hominem attacks and cries of apostasy, and there’s always hope that the better argument will ultimately prevail.
If Amash somehow survives Trump’s “tweets,” or finds himself better positioned outside the Republican party, it might even embolden a few other Republicans to tell the public what they’ve been telling their spouses about Trump.

— Bud Norman

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Down at the Town Hall

Political debates are scored subjectively, of course, and those predisposed to thinking that Barack Obama won Tuesday’s contest will likely go right ahead and think so. He didn’t convince us that his presidency hasn’t been disastrous, however, and we doubt that he won over many other skeptics.

Despite the significant advantages of a “town hall” format and a moderator clearly eager to help his cause, Obama probably also failed to convince many voters that Republican rival Mitt Romney is a lying, woman-hating, tax-cheating, Big Bird-killing plutocrat eager to wage war on the poor and downtrodden. Although Romney missed a few opportunities along the way, he came across as knowledgeable, competent, and very much a human being.

Romney also seemed classy yet down-to-earth as he endured the quadrennial inanities of the “town hall” “debate.” The questioners at these events almost invariably want to know about something of personal importance rather than national significance, which gives an edge to Democrats ever willing to oblige an individual at the taxpayers’ expense, and these purportedly undecided voters often turn out to be partisans hoping to embarrass the Republican. This time around a woman asked about women, which seemed intended to help Obama regain an apparently lost advantage with female voters, but it only gave Romney an opportunity to point out that a lousy economy is harmful to both sexes while Obama was reduced to touting a little-known Lilly Ledbetter bill that will affect a relative handful of women while discouraging many employers from hiring anyone of either sex. Another woman seemed to be demanding proof that Romney is not George W. Bush, and although we were disappointed he passed up the chance to produce his birth certificate he otherwise handled the question well without blasting his fellow Republican, while Obama was unable to offer a compelling theory that Romney is in fact Bush.

The best efforts of the moderator also failed to do Obama much good, although one of her frequent interjections was widely blamed by many conservative pundits blamed for one of the most disappointing moments of the night. During the inevitable discussion of the murders of four Americans at the embassy in Libya on Sept. 11, an issue that has been severely damaging to the president’s campaign, Obama insisted that he had described the event as terrorism from the outset, and when Romney disagreed the moderator flatly insisted that the president was right. A glance at the transcript of the president’s Rose Garden address in the immediate aftermath does include one oblique reference to terror toward the end of his brief remarks, but the coming days of news coverage should force even the most biased reporters to concede that the president did nonetheless spend weeks telling a now-discredited story that the murders were the result of a spontaneous demonstration provoked by a little-known film. Indeed, within minutes of the debate even the moderator was admitting she had been essentially incorrect.

There’s no telling how the rest of the world viewed the debate, but we were heartened to note that a couple of focus groups gathered by news outlets shared our impression. One of the focus had been chosen by the left-wing loonies at MSNBC, so that’s a good indicator that Romney did well enough.

— Bud Norman