Trashing Republican traditions

by Steven Roberts

After most Republicans vociferously condemned the FBI’s raid on Donald Trump’s Florida estate, Fox News host Steve Doocy plaintively asked his guest, GOP Congressman Steve Scalise: “What ever happened to the Republican Party backing the blue?”

When Scalise protested that “rogue” elements of the FBI were responsible for the operation, Doocy shot back: “Steve, who went rogue? Who went rogue? They were following a search warrant.”

For the last half-century or more, Republicans have been very shrewd, and successful, at embracing the concept of “law and order.” Their candidates have campaigned relentlessly in front of supporters arrayed in any kind of uniform: police and firefighters, hard hats and Green Berets, EMTs and ER nurses. Meanwhile, they branded the Democrats as the party of disorder – of long-haired, pot-smoking, free-loving, flag-burning “counter-culture McGovernicks,” as Newt Gingrich put it long ago.

Doocy, normally a Trump loyalist, poses a good question: Who, exactly, went rogue? And here’s the answer: the Republican Party. The GOP has lost its moorings as a defender of conservative values and established authorities. It has replaced those honorable principles with a new one: the Rule of Trump. What’s good for The Donald is good for the party. That’s how “back the blue” became “defund the FBI.”

“I thought, in the old days, the Republican Party used to stand with law enforcement,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“There are threats all over the place, and losing faith in our federal law enforcement officers, in our justice system, is a really serious problem for the country,” Maryland’s Republican governor, Larry Hogan, added on ABC’s “This Week.”

Republicans are not alone in attacking law enforcement for their own political purposes. It was leftist protestors in cities like Portland, Oregon, who made “defund the police” – perhaps the most misguided slogan in recent political history – their rallying cry.

Moreover, in the weeks leading up to the Mar-a-Lago episode, it was liberals who were attacking Attorney General Merrick Garland, complaining with increasing bitterness that he was too cautious in his approach and too slow to indict Trump for his role in igniting the insurrection of Jan. 6.

No one is above the law, not even a former president. But no one is beneath the law, either. Trump has rights that Garland is trying to protect, but the left wants the legal process to accomplish what they have not been able to do politically: Disqualify Trump from holding office again.

Still, this is not a case of “both-sidesism” or equal culpability. “Defund the police” is a fringe idea among Democrats, while perverting justice for political ends is a core tenet of Trumpism. As Michael R. Bromwich, a former Justice Department inspector general, told Peter Baker of The New York Times, “Trump simply doesn’t understand people like Garland and the top leadership of DOJ and the FBI because their values are so alien to him.”

Top Justice Department officials are appointed by the president, but the tradition is clear: They serve the law first, not the politician who picked them. Trump’s treatment of his own AGs and FBI directors are the best example of Bromwich’s point.

“After winning, Mr. Trump saw law enforcement agencies as another institution to bend to his will, firing FBI Director James B. Comey when he declined to pledge personal loyalty to the president or publicly declare that Mr. Trump was not a target of the Russia inquiry,” wrote Baker in the Times. “The president later fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from that investigation and therefore not protecting Mr. Trump from it.”

Then there was Bill Barr, who succeeded Sessions as attorney general. “Donald Trump is a man consumed with grievance against people he believes have betrayed him,” writes ABC’s White House correspondent, Jonathan Karl, in his book “Betrayal.” And after Barr called Trump’s claims of election fraud “bulls–t” in an AP interview, Karl reports the following exchange between the two men:

“Did you say that?” asked Trump.

“Yes,” Barr responded.

“How the f could you do this to me? Why did you say it?”

“Because it’s true.”

The president, livid, responded by referring to himself in the third person: “You must hate Trump. You must hate Trump.”

There it is. In today’s Republican Party, everything is filtered through Trump. Is it good for him, or bad? Do you love him, or hate him? And if that fealty means trashing traditions like “backing the blue,” so be it.

Steven Roberts teaches politics and journalism at George Washington University. His new book is “Cokie: A Life Well Lived.” He can be contacted by email at stevecokie@gmail.com.