Donald Trump: What scandal will it take for Republicans to stand up to the President and his associates?

Donald Trump: What scandal will it take for Republicans to stand up to the President and his associates?

Donald Trump: What scandal will it take for Republicans to stand up to the President and his associates?

Updated 12 July 2017, 22:50 AEST

If revelations against Donald Trump continue at the pace they have this week, even his most ardent political backers might find themselves having to ask questions they and their supporters would not like answered, writes Jonathan Bradley.

If Donald Trump's tenure as US President had depended on his good behaviour, we might right now be discussing president Mike Pence's contribution to the G20 summit held in Hamburg last week instead.

Considering the outrages of Mr Trump's first six months in office, is there any reason to suppose this latest news is what will finally make his presidency untenable?

The revelations the President's son, Donald Trump Jr, received an email offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, where he was told it was part of a Russian Government effort to help the campaign, are only one example.

Mr Trump has rarely been shy about his disdain for the niceties of proper process. He all but admitted to obstructing justice when, in May, he described his reasons for firing James Comey from his position as director of the FBI.

"This Russia thing", Mr Trump told NBC News, was why he fired the man leading an investigation into his aides.

Like their boss, key Trump administration and campaign associates, including son-in-law Jared Kushner, attorney-general Jeff Sessions and ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn, also operated under a cloud of suspicion that, in any normal administration, could make their continued employ untenable.

The constitution's system of checks and balances has a method of dealing with alleged wrongdoing — what it calls "high crimes and misdemeanours": it permits Congress to impeach a president who will not respect the office or the law of the land.

Yet Congress has shown little appetite for holding Mr Trump to account.

That is because both the House of Representatives and the Senate are controlled by the President's allies in the Republican Party, and they have thus far decided overwhelmingly to side with partisan allegiance over accountability.

It's not enough voice concern

It would be extraordinary for any party to relish investigating its own leader, and Republicans see their current control over the White House, as well as both houses of Congress, as a golden and short-lived opportunity to erase former President Barack Obama's accomplishments and reshape the American tax code, a difficult prospect even at the best of times.

But their habit of responding to new revelations of Trump outrages — begun during the 2016 campaign and perfected over his term in office — by feigning ignorance, good-humoured admonishment, or changing the subject is growing increasingly untenable.

When the President's son meets with a senior Russian official because he hopes to receive incriminating information about an opposing campaign — and brings two Trump campaign advisers along with him — it should be simply unacceptable for Republicans to look the other way.

When the President's son is told the meeting is "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr Trump", and he responds "I love it", Americans across the political spectrum should be hastening to defend the integrity of their nation's system of self-rule and the government of the people, by the people, and for the people on which it depends.

It should no longer be acceptable for Republican senators like Ben Sasse, Lindsey Graham, or John McCain to make a show of voicing concern about improprieties they properly recognise to be outrageous, while making no effort to subject the administration to the immediate and intensive investigation America urgently needs.

Two distinct views on Trump

What should bolster Republicans torn between their patriotic and partisan allegiances is Mr Trump's vast and enduring unpopularity.

He has never polled well, and his electoral victory this past November came with the substantial caveat that his opponent won close to 3 million more votes than he did. Today his approval rating stands at just 38 per cent, according to the Gallup Daily tracking poll.

However, that same poll shows, among Republicans, 85 per cent still approve of the President.

In recent years, Republicans who have exhibited insufficient ideological resolve have endured challenges from their conservative base; many of the party's representatives today think it's better to be out of step with the electorate at large than to have their own supporters turn on them.

If one of America's two major parties refuses to find out if their President sought to collaborate with a hostile power to undermine a democratic election, then partisanship, particularly that of a Republican Party savagely contemptuous of its political opponents, threatens to undermine the very fabric of the nation.

Trump's most ardent backers might soon be asking questions

But even though many Republicans would prefer to ignore any revelation of Trump administration misbehaviour, focusing instead on their policy goals, there is hope.

Throughout the Trump presidency, as is often the case with political scandals and despite the best efforts of the principal players, events have taken on a life of their own.

A Republican Senate would prefer not to have its committees investigating White House wrongdoing, but Republican Richard Burr's Select Committee on Intelligence has been doing exactly that.

A Republican attorney-general would not like to recuse himself from an investigation into his boss's electoral, or see his department appoint a special counsel to the investigation.

But as more information emerges, even politicians who would rather look the other way have found themselves bound by convention, propriety, or some hidden kernel of conscience to peer more closely into this administration's wrongdoing than they might prefer.

Donald Trump has 1,288 days left in his term. If revelations continue at the pace they have this week, even his most ardent political backers might find themselves having to ask questions that they and their supporters would not like answered.

Jonathan Bradley is a writer on US politics and culture. He tweets at @_jbradley.