Recall the liberty of youth—devoid of responsibility, accountability, or consequence. No unpaid bills or bunions or the burdensome ache of a coming reckoning. That was the look on House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy’s face on Friday as President Trump cooked up another hour-long Rose Garden word salad full of BS, political malpractice, and brazen disregard for furloughed government workers who can’t make ends meet but nonetheless, Trump insists, are cheering on a government shutdown.
McCarthy, who spoke briefly at the microphone only to be thanked afterward by Trump—who called him “Steve”—wore the bemused, unbothered look of a tween whose grandmother is yelling at the butcher and is just glad that this time he’s not the one in trouble.
McCarthy was there flanking President Trump along with Vice President Pence, Homeland Security Secretary Kirsten Nielsen, and House GOP Whip Steve Scalise and all them flexed their poker faces throughout, even when Trump lied about former presidents telling him they wish they had built The Wall.
Perhaps Trump’s Rose Garden statues, like McCarthy—who once joked that Trump was a Russian agent—were even relieved. After all, Friday’s spectacle was nothing compared to the TV show Trump put on Wednesday at a meeting of his acting Cabinet when he (falsely) justified the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as a defensive act. “The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia.” Trump said, and added “they were right to be there.”
Some conservative writers criticized Trump’s remarks: the Wall Street Journal editorialized that “Trump’s Cracked Afghan History” was reprehensible. “We cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American president.” Marc Thiessen, who has defended Trump a good many times, wrote “not a word of this is true,” in a post at the American Enterprise Institute that quoted a declassified CIA briefing about the basis for the invasion and then President Reagan’s speech from 1982 when he declared March 21st “Afghanistan Day.” David Frum wrote in the Atlantic “Putin-style glorification of the Soviet regime is entering the mind of the president, inspiring his words and—who knows—perhaps shaping his actions. How that propaganda is reaching him—by which channels, via which persons—seems an important if not urgent question. But maybe what happened yesterday does not raise questions. Maybe it inadvertently reveals answers.”
Most notably, Andrew McCarthy wrote in National Review that Trump’s “shocking assertions” were “exactly what Putin would want Trump to say.” Though McCarthy pled ignorance on behalf of the president—“I don’t believe Trump made these asinine comments because he is Putin’s stooge. I think he is uninformed and out of his depth”—he concluded that Trump’s statements were “indistinguishable from the propaganda that Putin himself would peddle” and are going to be of interest to Robert Mueller and could lengthen the special counsel’s investigation.
We didn’t expect Republicans to ponder aloud why the president cannot stay on course for his wall that is a national emergency, and should be made of concrete but could be steel slats, is already built anyway and is being paid for by Mexico through a trade deal Congress has yet to approve. They couldn’t speak out about Trump giving the ayatollah in Tehran his approval of Iran’s operations in Syria—“they can do what they want, frankly” Trump said of the Iranians. We figured they would pretend they never heard that Trump opened a meeting on the shutdown by showing his love letter from Kim Jong-un to Chuck Schumer.
Yet should we have expected Republicans serving in Congress, a separate and co-equal branch, to have spoken out against what—for whatever reason—is sheer Russian revisionism?
You can take your pick: Trump is either so ill-informed as to be unfit to make national security decisions or he is selling Putin’s line on purpose, out in the wide open. But elected Republicans—who we perhaps naively assume are privately horrified—want us to think they are unfazed and that this is no problemo.
Or maybe they’re not privately horrified. Mick Mulvaney sure looked at ease when asked by Jake Tapper on Sunday to respond to Trump’s Afghanistan fiction. “I think those are comments the president made born out of frustration from where we are and I’m not too concerned about the details,” he said.
Concern for these “details” is for people who might live to regret their silence. But you don’t need concern when there’s no tomorrow.