The GOP’s Endless War on Democrats

The Iran debate shows Republicans don’t believe in fighting tyrants. They believe in smearing their opponents.

Donald Trump opens his mouth as if to talk as Lindsey Graham walks by. There is a gold curtain and an American flag behind them.
President Donald Trump and Sen. Lindsey Graham at the White House in November. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

What does the Republican Party stand for? Lately, that’s been hard to figure out. In 2016, the party adopted a platform that talked about “moral leadership,” “the cause of liberty,” fighting “tyranny and injustice,” and standing up to “countries with repressive governments.” For three years, President Donald Trump, backed by Republicans in Congress, abandoned those commitments. Then last week, Trump reverted to the old Republican habit of using force. He killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani with a drone strike. And when Democrats questioned the wisdom of the strike, Republicans accused them of disloyalty to America.

From hawkishness to appeasement, the GOP has zigged, zagged, and zigged. Only one thing has remained constant: its partisan exploitation of the military and the flag. Republicans don’t believe in standing up to enemies abroad. They believe in impugning the patriotism of Democrats.

The 2016 Republican platform pledged “to support the Kurdish people,” continue “our partnership” with the Iraqi people, and press for change in North Korea, “the Kim family’s slave state.” It promised “assistance to the armed forces of Ukraine” and sanctions on Russia “until Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are fully restored.” Trump has proved that all these statements were lies. He has excused Russian aggression, extorted Ukraine, threatened Iraq, betrayed the Kurds, and glorified Kim Jong-un. You’d think that Republicans, having defended these betrayals and capitulations, might hesitate to lecture others about weakness or anti-Americanism. But you’d be wrong.

In June 2018, Trump held a summit with Kim, dismissed questions about North Korea’s human rights abuses, and declared, “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” U.S. intelligence debunked Trump’s assurances. But on Fox News, Republican Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia said Trump’s fake deal was working, and he denounced Democrats for refusing to give the president credit. “This is a pattern for the Democrats,” said Collins. “We’re seeing results.”

Now that Trump has taken the opposite position in Iran—denying that it complied with its 2015 denuclearization agreement and killing its top general—Collins says Democrats are sucking up to America’s enemies. In a Fox News interview on Wednesday, the congressman accused Democrats of trying to limit Trump’s war powers because “they’re in love with terrorists. We see that. They mourn Soleimani more than they mourn our Gold Star families.”

Collins later apologized, but his accusation is part of an ongoing propaganda campaign and a pattern of Republican hypocrisy. Take the case of Mike Pompeo, Trump’s secretary of state. In October 2018, a Saudi hit squad murdered and dismembered Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and U.S. resident. The CIA concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the killing. In response, Trump and Pompeo tried to cover up the prince’s complicity. Pompeo said there was no “direct reporting” that proved the prince’s guilt—a misleading technicality—and he suggested that sometimes you have to put up with the murder of an American resident. “It’s a mean, nasty world out there,” he argued.

But now that Trump has killed an Iranian general for orchestrating the deaths of Americans, Pompeo has rediscovered piety and slander. “The Obama-Biden administration essentially handed power to the Iranian leadership and acted as a quasi-ally of theirs … underwriting the very militias that killed Americans,” Pompeo raged on Fox News Sunday. On Meet the Press, he said President Barack Obama’s policy “was designed to guarantee that the Iranian regime would have power, authority, capacity to take Americans” hostage.

In the spring, when special counsel Robert Mueller reported that Trump and his campaign had solicited Russian help in the 2016 election, Sen. Lindsey Graham tried to cover up Trump’s treachery. “Mueller said there was no evidence of collusion between President Trump or anybody on his campaign with the Russians, period,” Graham lied. In a press conference, the senator falsely claimed that Mueller’s “conclusion was firm, without equivocation, that no one on the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians.”

But this week, when Graham’s colleagues proposed to constrain Trump’s authority to use force against Iran, Graham accused them of treachery. He told the media, “I’m going to let people know that at this moment in time, to play this game with the War Powers Act, which I think is unconstitutional … whether you mean to or not, you’re empowering the enemy.”

In the fall, after Trump secretly urged the president of Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political opponents, Sen. James Risch of Idaho insisted, “I saw nothing in the conversation that was inappropriate.” Now, in the debate over Iran, Risch says Democrats are betraying our country. “What you come away with after listening to the Democrats,” Risch told reporters, “is there is so much hate and vitriol and animosity against this president that they are willing to put at risk lives of American citizens and American military people.”

Steve Scalise, the House minority whip, also excused Trump’s attempts at collusion. In a November interview, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Scalise six times whether it was “appropriate for the president to ask the Ukrainians—or the Chinese, which he’s also done in public—to investigate his domestic political opponents.” Six times, Scalise refused to say it was wrong. Scalise also claimed, falsely, that according to Mueller, Trump and his associates “never even came close” to accepting offers of campaign help “from Russian-affiliated individuals.”

Now Scalise accuses Democrats of using “Iranian talking points to criticize the president.” On Wednesday, at a House Republican briefing, he repeated that “some in the Democrat leadership” were “trying to criticize those actions that kept America safer, using some of the same talking points that are coming out of Tehran.”

In October, Trump deliberately removed U.S. troops from Syria’s northeastern border so that Turkey could invade Syria and expel the Kurds who had helped us defeat ISIS. When Democrats offered a resolution to oppose the withdrawal and Turkey’s invasion, 60 Republicans, including Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona and Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, defended Trump’s betrayal and voted against the resolution.

Now these Republicans are preening about national honor and slandering Democrats. “They’ve run and helped our enemies,” Gohmert said on Wednesday. He accused Democrats of having “helped [Iran] fund the terrorism that has continued to kill Americans.” On Fox News, Biggs said Democrats “hate [Trump] more than they love this country. … They’re trying to overthrow the country. And in so doing, they do put our men and women … in jeopardy.”

In foreign policy—as in morals, trade, criminal justice, fiscal policy, and the rule of law—Republicans have no firm principles. Sometimes they stand for human rights and against tyranny. Sometimes they ignore human rights and defend tyrants. But rain or shine, you can count on Republicans to attack the patriotism of Democrats. That’s what the Republican Party is.

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