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WEISS: Republicans have already lumped themselves with Trump

Hiestand’s defense of Ryan overlooks broad apologism for Trump agenda that permeates Republican Party

At this year’s Munich Security Conference, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., delivered a poignant address in which he expressed fear that the liberal international order is being eroded by a crisis of confidence and that the U.S. is retreating from the world. Unfortunately, Sen. McCain is one of a small minority of elected Republicans willing to speak inconsistent truths to the Trump administration. In an op-ed published by The Cavalier Daily two weeks ago, Ali Hiestand, the chair of the College Republicans at the University, wrote passionately of the need for liberals to stop grouping President Trump in with all Republicans, asking “are you against Trump or are you against the entire Republican Party?” She could well point to Sen. McCain and the minority of other Republicans who join him in his criticism. Considering the president ran and won on the Republican ticket, it seems more like Hiestand is in denial of what has happened to her party and what it is actively doing to assure the success of the president’s nationalist and xenophobic agenda. To criticize one is to criticize both.

Context is, of course, important. Hiestand was responding to a provocative opinion piece penned by fellow columnist Gray Whisnant in which he said the danger of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s ideological conservative agenda and that of Trump’s are on the same level. I do not share Whisnant’s view; I think Trump represents a unique threat to American democracy and world order that far-right movement conservatism could never replicate. But in her rush to condemn his column, Hiestand ignored an important part of his argument, namely that Speaker Ryan and the rest of the Republican caucus have subordinated their duty to Congressional oversight of the executive for the chance at implementing their agenda. This sinister modus vivendi imperils the security and liberties of all Americans, but I suppose one should not expect much more from most Republican officials. The rank-and-file, after all, back Trump more fervently with every overreach, blunder and slur.

Take a look at the polls. On Feb. 16, the Pew Research Center found that while Trump’s overall approval to disapproval stands at 39 percent to 56 percent, 84 percent of Republicans continue to support the president. This is considered standard for a president from his party, and this enthusiasm extends to Trump’s executive order on immigration. Despite the College Republicans’ denunciation of the executive order in a joint statement with the University Democrats, the travel ban enjoys an approval rating of 81 percent among Republicans.

Naturally, such overwhelming support filters through to Republican representatives in Congress, many of whom have gerrymandered themselves into fending off potential primary fights from their right flank in perpetuity. Their responses so far to the White House’s extraordinary incompetence and malevolence have been weak and enabling. Speaker Ryan released a statement of support for the travel ban and, though he later said the confusion it caused was “regrettable,” the only thing he has criticized is its implementation and not its conception. He called Michael Flynn’s conversation about sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak “entirely appropriate,” implicitly brushing off any concern that Flynn violated the Logan Act. Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes spent Sunday, Feb. 19 on morning shows emphasizing how condemnable these national security leaks concerning Russia are while downplaying Michael Flynn and speaking elliptically about ongoing investigations into Trump-Russia ties. This is not surprising considering he had a key role on the Trump transition team. House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz has done his best to ignore all things Russia and Flynn as well. To this day, the president has not definitively condemned or even acknowledged the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and congressional Republicans have no interest in making him do so. They are too busy salvaging a legislative agenda with tricky implementation and pandering to Trump’s deepening conflict with the intelligence community.

The Conservative Political Action Conference was the best and latest demonstration of this unholy alliance of movement conservatives and white nationalists. The highlight of the event was White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus’s joint appearance. Bannon made sure to say that traditional conservatives as well as economic nationalists are welcome in Trump’s Republican party and that a new political order was emerging in which the nation is emphasized over the economy. Priebus emphasized tax cuts, deregulation and the closeness of their working relationship. Molotov and Ribbentrop would have been proud.

All of this is to say that Hiestand’s outrage at Whisnant’s column is unfounded. Republicans have lumped themselves in with Trump and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. There were a negligible few Republican defectors, whose best efforts could not keep him out of office and will not impede his agenda today.

Olivier Weiss is an Opinion columnist for the Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at


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