The Republican Party wants us to grade Donald Trump on a curve. No other conclusion is possible after a week of high drama and reality avoidance that would have wrecked the president’s good name, if he had one.
The highlight, of course, was former FBI Director James Comey testifying under oath before the Senate Intelligence Committee and accusing Trump of “lies, plain and simple.” But before we get to that, let’s parse some of the weaselly evasions that preceded it.
The day before Comey’s appearance, for instance, national security chiefs Mike Rogers and Dan Coats, testifying before the same committee, refused to answer directly when asked whether Trump ever asked them to intervene in an FBI investigation. Two days before that, Trump surrogates Sebastian Gorka and Kellyanne Conway insisted with straight faces that Trump’s often-damning tweets — statements by the president in his own words — were not to be taken seriously.
Next to them, Comey was some combination of Captain America and Pope Francis for plain moral rectitude — sometimes even at his own expense, as when he admitted failing to push back forcefully enough against the president’s misbehavior. But it was Trump’s character and actions that were squarely in the bull’s eye.
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Comey explained that he committed his meetings with Trump to contemporaneous memos because of “the nature of the person” he was dealing with — a precaution he never felt the need for with Presidents Obama and Bush. He confirmed that Trump asked him to stop investigating Mike Flynn, the former national security adviser, who lied about his contacts with Russian officials.
And he described an Oval Office meeting where Trump asked everyone but him to clear the room, then said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let him go.” That would seem clearly inappropriate if not illegal, especially since Trump fired Comey after he refused that request and cited the investigation as the reason. But Trump’s Republican defenders kept looking for loopholes.
Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, seized upon Trump’s use of the word “hope” to suggest the president never actually ordered Comey to let Flynn off the hook. Apparently, English is not Risch’s first language and he is unschooled in its nuances. Suffice it to say, when Tony Soprano says, “Nice place you got here; hope nothing happens to it,” buy fire insurance.
Meantime, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., meandered incoherently through a confusing thicket of questions and misstatements that seemed designed to suggest a double standard in the fact that the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails ended last year, while the Russia probe is ongoing. Or, he could have been asking who stole his Metamucil. It was hard to tell.
Even House Speaker Paul Ryan got into the act, noting that Trump “is just new to this.” By “this,” he probably meant governing, although he could have meant accountability. Either way, his point was apparently that the man who said “I alone can fix” America should be given time to learn how to do his job.
But that presupposes Trump’s willingness to learn. Or his ability. No evidence exists to support either idea.
Bottom line: this attempted defense of the indefensible is threadbare and outrageous. The GOP asks us to put their party above our country, to grade this presidency on a curve like you would a poor student who was trying real hard. But there’s no curve that can save Donald Trump. This president has failed.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.