At a rally in Ohio this week, President Donald Trump went after a familiar target: the late Senator John McCain. “I have to be honest, I never liked him much,” the president told his crowd at the General Dynamics plant in Lima. “Probably never will.” (Trump seemed particularly galled that he never got a “thank you” for giving McCain “the kind of funeral that he wanted.”)
Baffling as the attack might seem to someone who wasn’t conditioned to years of Trump’s rambling, extemporaneous grievance-airings, the attack barely registered in Washington. Republicans in the Senate, where McCain served for three decades, have been virtually silent.
It’s a useful indicator though, of how the GOP has changed in the Trump era. Back in 2015, after Trump first went after a then-living McCain, he got a full-throated rebuke from, among others, Sean Spicer, Rick Perry, Chris Christie and Lindsey Graham. He won the nomination anyway, and each of those people became, if not officials in his administration, close confidants and advisers.
Since his inauguration, Republicans in Congress have gone to extreme, even nonsensical lengths to insulate or defend Trump — efforts that fly in the face of their constitutional duty to act as a check on executive power. Republicans have turned a blind eye, even as the list of scandals embroiling the president, his campaign, his administration and his business grow. Below, a timeline of these profiles in courage:
After the Office of Government Ethics questions Trump’s refusal to divest himself from his business, House Oversight chair Jason Chaffetz threatens to investigate the head of the Office of Government Ethics.
Michael Flynn is caught lying about his contacts with Russia, so House Intel chair Devin Nunes wants to investigate the FBI for monitoring Russia.
Rep. Kevin Brady decries Democrats’ efforts to “intimidate, harass and destroy their political enemies” because they requested Trump’s tax returns. (Republicans blocked the move.)
This one’s a doozy: After then-FBI director James Comey drops the bombshell that the Trump campaign is under investigation for collusion with Russia, Nunes makes his infamous “midnight run” for classified documents — leaked from the White House — and doesn’t brief the Intel committee on it. He holds a press conference announcing his intention to brief the White House on the documents, however, which Trump then uses to claim that he’s “somewhat” vindicated in his false claims that the Obama administration had Trump’s “wires tapped.” “I had a duty and an obligation to tell [Trump],” explained Nunes, “As you know, he takes a lot of heat in the news media.”
Trump’s “heart is in the right place,” House Speaker Paul Ryan says after the president says the deadly white supremacist march in Charlottesville included some “very fine people.”
The first indictment of the special counsel’s Russia probe is announced, so congressional Republicans announce their own investigations — into Hillary Clinton.
Nunes uses cherry-picked data in a memo accusing the FBI of cherry-picking data to trick a court into approving a warrant on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. The surveillance warrant couldn’t have had anything to do with Carter’s suspicious contacts with Russian spies, could it? No, that’s too obvious.
After several failures, the Republican-controlled Congress finally passes major legislation: a hugely unpopular corporate tax cut. Tennessee’s Rep. Diane Black thanks Trump “for allowing us to have you as our president.” Sen. Orrin Hatch says Trump could be the “greatest president ever” and Ryan talks of “exquisite presidential leadership.”
GOP Reps. Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, frustrated that Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein won’t share details about the Mueller investigation, move to impeach the Trump appointee for “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
The president is directly implicated in a criminal conspiracy to influence an election. Says Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “I don’t have any observations about that.”
Senator Lindsey Graham, who in 2015 called Trump “the Islamic State’s man of the year,” gushes that Trump has done “a hell of a job destroying the caliphate.” Graham also vows to investigate whether the DOJ and FBI had plotted “an administrative coup” to remove Trump from the presidency.
When Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, lays out extraordinarily damning testimony of the president, Republicans on the House Oversight Committee do everything they can to discredit him — even posting a sign in the chamber that reads “Liar, Liar pants on fire,” with Cohen’s face on it. The nadir? Defending Trump against accusations of racism, Mark Meadows presents Exhibit A: Lynne Patton. Patton is a HUD official and, Meadows explains, also black. (Ipso, facto, etc.) “I did the same thing that you’re doing now,” Cohen warned at the hearing. “I protected Mr. Trump for 10 years…The more people that follow Mr. Trump, as I did blindly, are going to suffer the same consequences that I’m suffering.”