I'm going include the entire interview here, but you might find it easier to skip to the link at the end, click it, and read it online. Up to you.
Sean Illing, a writer for Vox, interviews the conservative columnist David French, who writes for National Review. So here's two smart guys, likely on opposite sides of the political fence, comparing notes about what this week's Trump disclosures mean for the nation. There's a brutal question on the table, which only the strong are going to be willing to ask themselves: Is it really possible to legitimately call yourself a patriot if you are one of the many Trump apologists who have simply abandoned their principals out of convenience?
"The truth is that Republicans failed." A conservative columnist on the GOP's capitulation to Trump.
David French on Trump, Russian collusion, and the future of the Republican Party.
(by Sean Illing)
ďThe Russian investigation isnít a witch hunt anymore, if it ever was. Itís a national necessity.Ē
Those arenít the words of a liberal reacting to this weekís bombshell release of emails showing that Donald Trump Jr. took a meeting with a Russian lawyer after being explicitly told it would include damaging information about Hillary Clinton that was being provided by the Russian government.
Instead, those are the words of conservative David French, an Army veteran and conservative columnist for National Review who almost decided to mount a protest campaign against then-candidate Donald Trump last year. He had no chance to win, but he might have given conservatives a name they could write it on their ballots as a protest vote.
On Tuesday, just a few hours after the release of the new emails, French unloaded on the Trump administration, posting a scathing article headlined ďThere is Now Evidence that Senior Trump Officials Attempted to Collude With Russia.Ē
ďNo American ó Democrat or Republican ó should defend the expressed intent of this meeting,Ē he wrote.
Although he never says it in the piece, Frenchís words are aimed squarely at conservative voters ó and Republican politicians ó who so far have turned a blind eye to the Trump administrationís lies and scandals.
I reached out to French on Wednesday to talk about why that is, and why he doubts Republicans in Congress will ever impeach or seek to constrain the Trump administration. I also ask him if the Republican Party will pay a long-term price for their complicity in Trumpís various scandals.
Our conversation, edited for clarity and length, follows.
Sean Illing -- Itís been almost a year since we last spoke, and things have only gotten weirder. Itís hard to believe that Iím talking to a conservative Republican writer who just wrote a piece about how a Republican president colluded with a hostile foreign power in order to facilitate that countryís efforts to undermine an American election.
David French -- I still can't believe that there's an actual email that exists that basically says, "Hey, the Russian government wants to help your dad," and Trump Jr. responds, "Love it." It feels like a bad House of Cards script.
Sean Illing -- Say what you will of the Underwoods, they at least have a plan. The Trump administration is just a tornado of incompetence.
David French -- Yeah, I guess thatís true. The other thing thatís so dispiriting is watching the legions of Republicans bury their heads in the sand and pretend like this isnít happening.
Sean Illing -- Have you seen some of the reactions of GOP senators? Sen. Orrin Hatch said, "I don't think this is relevant to the Trump administration.Ē Sen. Thom Tillis said, ďThatís the very thing that we need to not be distracted by.Ē So I guess potentially treasonous collusion with Russia is just a sideshow now.
David French -- I'm sure that if there were similar revelations about Hillary Clinton, they would be equally blasť! Look, I think this is a product of the fact that as of right now there is no sign that the core of the Republican base support for Trump is cracking. There was something that was really interesting that happened in Tennessee. Republican Sen. Bob Corker said that the Trump administration seems to be descending into chaos, and a poll was done of Tennessee GOP primary voters that showed a whopping 60 percent of them said that that comment made them less likely to want to vote for Bob Corker in the primary.
So long as that base wall holds, this is what weíre going to get.
Sean Illing -- Is there a meaningful distinction between Trump's base and the Republican base?
David French -- For now, I donít think so. My sense is that the shock and delight of the election victory bonded the base to Trump more than anything else that's happened since. The level of despair among your average GOP voter heading into the election, that feeling that weíre about to lose again, was real. There was a feeling of incredible gloom that this thing had been botched and then, almost miraculously, it was reversed in a few hours on election night. So people are still bonded to Trump. There's this burst of hope. And for people who donít follow politics at the speed of Twitter, that exuberance doesnít wear off easily.
Sean Illing -- Thereís some truth in that, but this is about a lot more than election night exuberance. Half the country doesnít give a damn what the president does because itís not about the president; they just hate the other team. This is negative partisanship run amok and itís totally divorced from principles or ideology.
David French -- You hit the nail on the head. My theory is that this is a manifestation of negative partisanship. If you look at that Pew data that really defines that term well, basically it says, "Hey, I'm a Republican not because of what Republicans believe but because I dislike Democrats," and vice versa. Democrats aren't Democrats because of what Democrats believe, but because they dislike Republicans. When you play that out and look at 2016, is it any surprise that this was the most vitriolic election in my lifetime?
Sean Illing -- Negative partisanship exists on both sides, but Iím not sure thereís a perfect equivalence. Weíve never seen anything like this before, though, so itís impossible to know how Democratic voters would respond. But can you imagine if Chelsea Clinton and John Podesta were caught colluding with the Russians in this flagrant a manner? Would the Democratic establishment fall in like this? I doubt it, but who knows? We can be damn sure how Republicans would react, however.
David French -- Oh, I can imagine. I think Sean Hannity's show would go to three hours a night. You would have breaking news sirens on all four sides of the Fox News screen. The response will be insane, and the talking points would be obvious. They would say itís about principle and that this is not how you engage with enemies of the United States. We all know what would happen. And right now, except for a few principled Republicans, itís just total denialism.
Sean Illing -- You mention the few Republicans who have taken a stand ó people like John McCain and Lindsey Graham and Ben Sasse ó but I want to talk about the rest of the Republicans in Congress, because I think thatís where the real responsibility lies here. I'll just toss this out there: What the hell happened to your party? How did the Republican establishment become enablers of ... this?
David French -- Well, it didnít all happen at once; it was a process. It started to become clear in late 2015 that Trump had staying power, and I think there was still disbelief among the establishment. People were just waiting for this thing to implode, so they kept kicking the can down the road.
I remember writing in December 2015 that Rubio or Cruz or someone had to step up and lead rather than appease and triangulate. These guys were just assuming Trump would fade and they didnít want to be the one who killed him. Plus, they wanted to absorb his voters. You literally had months of this. You had months of Trump attacking whoever he wanted to attack. The response was tepid, because I think the assumption was, "He's going to expend his energy. He's going to finally cross that line. He's going to go down. I don't want to be the one who does it because I want to get all his people."
By the time Republicans realized Trump wasnít going away, it was too late. Rubio and Cruz tried, at various points, to take Trump down but nothing stuck. Eventually, it just became about defeating Hillary Clinton. No one wanted to be seen as helping to elect Clinton, and I think a lot of Republicans believed that Trump would lose anyway. So they were just looking towards 2020.
The truth is that Republicans failed. At every stage it was, "Somebody's going to do this for us," and at no stage was it, "We're going to circle the wagons around principles, stand up for what we've been telling Republicans we believe in for the last quarter century-plus, and defend these Republican principles because they're right and because they're true."
Sean Illing -- Thatís all true, but what Iím really talking about is what happened after Trump was elected ó thatís where the real cowardice begins. Republicans like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell made a kind of devil's bargain, where they just said, "Weíre going to overlook this obscenity and this manís unfitness for office because we think we can use him as a vehicle to pass legislation weíve wanted to pass for years.Ē Thatís unspeakably cynical and, ultimately, I think theyíre regret it, if they donít already.
(Part two follows in the post below)
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