It's a measure of how thoroughly our political norms have collapsed that the U.S. president spent last weekend savaging a dead war hero as prominent members of his party, per usual, sat by in cowardly silence. President Donald Trump's attacks against the late Sen. John McCain were part of an unhinged two-day tweet storm in which the putative leader of the free world lashed out at an array of targets, including General Motors, Google, "Saturday Night Live," France and even Fox News.
Trump's rhetoric seems to grow more irrational by the day — a damaging and potentially dangerous situation for America's democracy. Yet congressional Republicans tremble at the idea of raising even the mildest objection. No responsible voter should forget that in next year's elections.
McCain was the former Vietnam prisoner of war and 2008 Republican presidential nominee who died of cancer in August. His long feud with Trump was, in its way, a battle for the soul of the Republican Party: Would it hold to the principles of responsible governance, law and order, and patriotism? Or would it fully embrace a man who flouted those and other conservative ideals in favor of bigotry, corruption and cynicism?
If the answers to those questions weren't clear already, the almost complete lack of Republican pushback to Trump's recent Twitter tantrum should make it clear now. McCain refused to compromise his principles or keep quiet in the face of his party's hypocrisy.
Trump apparently was set off by a Fox News report about the so-called Steele dossier that outlined salacious allegations against him involving Russia, and McCain's role in providing it to the FBI. Trump tweeted, falsely, that McCain did it to influence the 2016 election; McCain actually provided the dossier post-election — and he was right to, given the still-unanswered questions about Trump and Russia.
Trump sniped, again falsely, that McCain was "last in his class" at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. He savaged McCain for his 2017 vote against repealing Obamacare, which was a legitimate protest to the procedural shortcuts being taken. And Trump retweeted another person's post declaring the reasons "we hated McCain" — a dead war hero, remember.
It should go without saying that presidents don't act like this. Yet the only significant response among top Republicans came from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who tweeted some generic compliments about his late friend, while carefully avoiding any mention of Trump's insults. That's today's GOP: so afraid of the man who debases their party that they won't even defend its heroes.
Trump's attacks against McCain should have prompted partywide condemnation. Instead, Republican timidity has confirmed, once again, that the dangerous degradation of America's political norms and institutions today isn't the work of Trump alone. He has silent accomplices — and many of them will be on the ballot in 2020.
REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH