From grownups to grovelers

In the spring of 2011, U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam visited the newsroom I was working in at the time to discuss the fiscal year 2012 budget proposed by congressional Republicans.

Roskam wanted to highlight the finer points of the spending plan titled “The Path to Prosperity: Restoring America’s Promise.” U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, who chaired the Budget Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, worked on this document.

Roskam and one of his staffers sat down with me and several other editors. House members took some time in their home districts to promote how they believed the proposed budget would benefit the country.

As we were all sitting down, I asked Roskam: “So, how will President Trump react to this plan?”

Roskam launched into his prepared remarks but then suddenly burst out laughing. It took him a few seconds to register the joke I made about who could possibly win the presidency in 2012.

Real estate magnate and reality TV star Donald Trump had once again flirted with a presidential candidacy. He spent quite a bit of time in early 2011 wallowing in the thoroughly racist birther allegations directed at President Barack Obama. But he ended speculation of a White House run after a few months, declaring he wasn’t prepared to leave the private sector.

It’s interesting to reflect on a time when GOP leaders actually looked upon the idea of Trump overseeing the Oval Office as absurd. And Roskam wasn’t some RINO merely playing lip service to Republican ideals.

He had true conservative credentials and solid standing within the party, rising to the level of chief deputy majority whip in 2011. Roskam represented Illinois’s 6th Congressional District, taking over this House seat from the venerated Henry Hyde. Having served six terms, many people obviously believed he was a worthy successor.

Sadly, the Republican Party has undergone a disturbing transformation over the past decade. Many critics have long accused GOP ideologues of working for the interests of their party over those of their country. It’s gotten even worse: Now they’ve abandoned their party to placate a single personality.

I’ll never understand what so many Republicans found appealing about Trump in the first place. Supporters say they felt obligated to thwart the leftist agenda of the Democrats.

That may be true, but they didn’t need Trump to do this. Whatever worthy objectives Trump has fulfilled while in office could easily have been achieved with any other Republican president. And then we wouldn’t have had to put up with four years of juvenile behavior from a self-absorbed grifter.

Perhaps many of his supporters identified with Trump’s bigotry, as this, to a large extent, separated him from his 2016 GOP challengers. They were willing to overlook his decades of fraud and dishonesty just to have someone in the White House who reflected their biases — and was eager to turn these vulgar characteristics into public policy goals.

We now have a Republican Party that once rightly viewed a Trump presidency as laughable to one that cowers to his every petty whim. U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, has joined in this shabby practice. Members of this contingent have surrendered what integrity the GOP possessed to appease a corrupt autocrat.

Stefanik signed on to the ridiculous lawsuit filed in the U.S. Supreme Court last month by Texas Attorney General Kenneth Paxton and those of 17 other states. She and 125 of her House colleagues supported a legal assault on the elections in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Voters in these states had the audacity to choose a presidential candidate not to their liking.

Of course, the Supreme Court refused to take the case. Justices ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring this action.

Stefanik tried to justify her involvement by feigning a concern over the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit claimed that changes to election procedures in these four states violated Article II, Section 1, Clause 2, which reads: “Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of senators and representatives to which the state may be entitled in the Congress: but no senator or representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector.”

Responding to the novel coronavirus pandemic, many states altered certain rules for voting. The plaintiffs alleged this ran afoul of the Constitution and, thus, required a judicial remedy.

However, Stefanik and her cohorts botched their interpretation of this provision. This clause pertains exclusively to the “manner” in which presidential electors are chosen.

And in all states, this manner is through popular elections involving eligible voters. Not a single state revised this method (for example, mandating that state legislators pick electors rather than members of the public), so no violation occurred.

In addition, the plaintiffs’ supposed desire to protect the Constitution was incredibly selective. They somehow managed to find problems only in states where Joe Biden defeated Trump — and only in such states where Trump had won four years ago!

Had this been an honest evaluation, the plaintiffs would have noticed that numerous states made similar procedural changes last year — including those where Trump secured victories. Case in point: By his own authority, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott decided that voters throughout the state should have access to a single drop-off box per county rather than multiple boxes.

The Texas Legislature had no say in this matter, the very issue decried by the plaintiffs. Turning down a legal challenge to Abbott’s decision, the Texas Supreme Court specifically lauded the governor for making conditions better for voters than state election law did. Paxton praised Abbott, obviously overlooking the constitutional violation that he observed in other states.

Interestingly, another portion of the Constitution (Article 1, Section 4, Clause 1) more broadly defines the rules for electing federal legislators: “The times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of [choosing] senators.”

Did any of the plaintiffs win their elections in states where the rules were amended without approval by their respective legislatures?

If so, wouldn’t this violate the Constitution? If so, are their victories nullified? If so, why did they all agree to be sworn into office Sunday for a new congressional term?

The Texas lawsuit against the four states served no purpose other than to pander to Trump’s supporters. One consequence is that it encouraged Trump to keep acting like a baby crying for his pacifier.

Repeating baseless assertions of widespread voter fraud, Trump has yet to accept the reality of his defeat. We’ve now heard an audiotape of him trying to coerce Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger into helping him “find” (does he really mean manufacture?) 11,799 votes to make it appear as though he won the state’s electors.

This pathetic spectacle is carrying over to the vital role Congress serves in transferring power to a new president. Stefanik and many other legislators have vowed to challenge the certified slate of electors from certain states when they convene today on Capitol Hill.

In doing so, they are insisting that their personal judgment of who should be president must replace that of the voters in these states. With a mentality like this, who needs elections?

Given that neither Trump nor his supporters have produced any evidence to support their attack on our democratic process, continuing this charade is repugnant. I’d say that Stefanik and other enablers should be ashamed of their actions, but shame is a luxury they can’t afford when groveling at the feet of their master.

A decade ago, Republican leaders understood that Trump was utterly unfit to be president. He’s done nothing over these past four years but prove their initial assessment correct.

But the GOP has now ceded so much power to someone bent on abusing it that they fear it’s too late to reverse course. All they can do is beg for Trump’s favorable attention while he rips apart whatever they have remaining of a once honorable political movement.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times.


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