Despite the fear of a President Pence being somewhat overblown, those hoping for a combination of Mueller indictments and a big Democratic win in 2018 to combine to save us must consider what impeachment would mean for the country. One of the unique characteristics of the Russiagate scandal, which is the most likely series of events that could potentially lead to impeachment, is that none of the news we are hearing now is actually news. While some details are new and Robert Mueller III is doing a great job of connecting the dots, the evidence of Russian meddling in our election with the knowledge of the Trump campaign was present well before the election. In fact, the GOP leadership was briefed about this in fallof 2016.
This scandal is much bigger than the alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, or even than the subsequent efforts to cover that up. A larger problem, one that will have a more enduring impact on our democracy, is that the Republican Party, other than a few individual comments here and there, refuses to recognize that the gravity of this. Our system may be strong enough to limit the damage of a venal, dishonest and possibly treasonous administration, but it cannot do that when the majority party in congress continues to deliberately live in a world of increasingly absurd denial. A Republican Party that continues to see the ties between Trump and Russia as essentially unimportant is the biggest threat to our democracy. This policy of denial has made the Republican leadership in congress complicit in the misdoings of the Trump campaign and demonstrated the extraordinary moral cowardice of the rest of the GOP.
What makes this scandal unique in American history is that, while it is an offense that is impeachable, and that makes both Watergate and the Clinton scandals that brought about his impeachment, but not his conviction, look like a day at the beach, it all occurred and was known before the election. Other presidents committed offenses that drew attention, scrutiny and even impeachment once they were in office. Trump did it all in the year preceding the election. This has brought him immunity of a sort, because if he is impeached, it will be very easy to bring down much of the Republican Party with him. This is the Faustian, and poorly thought out, that the Republicans made when they nominated and then rallied behind this more than slightly unhinged kleptocrat with authoritarian, and perhaps treasonous tendencies.
The veritable collapse of the Republican Party in California is not news, but it is worth considering, particularly given the party's failure, again, to even have a serious campaign for governor in 2014. California is the most populous state in the country, but it was at the center of the Republican Party for most of the years from 1952-1992, a period of ascendancy for the Party nationally. The national ticket in most of those years included national politicians, notably Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan with roots in California. Many big states are aligned with one party, but California is different both because of the Republican's strong recent history there but also because the diversity of the state that makes it both a harbinger of what the country will become and a place that should be a battleground for competing ideas and visions. In recent years, however, the Republican Party was not made itself relevant in that battleground.
The news this week about the Department of Justice looking at the phone logs of journalists covering the White House, and of the IRS scrutinizing the tax returns of various right-wing groups, is bad for the Obama administration. They are also much more likely to stick than the Benghazi story. The Justice Department and IRS stories make the administration look almost like a branch of the Obama campaign, putting their ample resources behind efforts to harass, or at least gather information, about the Obama administration. In a comparative sense, these are not as serious as Watergate, domestic surveillance during the Nixon administration, or Iran-Contra, but they have the potential to be solid b-level scandals, too small to bring down a president, but big enough to accelerate that second term president's lame duck status.