Some leading Republicans, who have been docile as President Trump has violated many of the historic cardinal rules of conservatism – like keeping a lid on the national debt -have finally found something they are willing to criticize.
Trump’s call to congratulate Russian President Vladimir Putin on his reelection seems to be that one step too far.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) told reporters he would not have made that call to Putin.
“I think Putin is a criminal,” said Grassley, one of the Senate’s most consistently conservative members.
“What he did in Georgia, what he did in Ukraine, what he did in Baltic, what he’s done in London poisoning people with active nerve gas, that’s a criminal act,” declared Grassley.
It wasn’t just that Trump called Putin against the counsel of his own national security advisors – but it’s what he did not say that galled so many.
The American president did not bring up the complete lack of fairness in the recent Russian elections or the accusations from the British government that a Russian double agent living in England was just murdered with a deadly Russian nerve poison.
Nor did he offer any words of criticism for the Russian interference in our 2016 elections – or their plans to do so again.
“When I look at a Russian election,” drawled McConnell, “what I see is a lack of credibility in tallying the results.”
“I’m always reminded,” continued McConnell, “of the elections they used to have in almost every communist country where whoever the dictator was at the moment always got huge percentages of the vote.”
“So calling him,” added McConnell, “wouldn’t have been high on my list.”
Then McConnell being McConnell, he had to inject something to undermine his own mild admonition.
“The President,” said McConnell, “can call whomever he chooses.”
Of course, it was ailing Senator John McCain, who has been one of the few Republicans to criticize Trump when he deserves it, who emerged from his sickbed to speak truth to the most powerful executive in our government.
McCain, the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement: “An American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections.”
Dating back to his presidential campaign, Trump has had a strange fixation on Putin, and for a time what seemed to be a kind of perverted idol worship for his authoritarian power.
As Russia has committed act after act in violation of international law, and Putin has been unashamedly obvious in his brutal suppression of his political opponents, the press and anyone who dares to stand against him, Trump has been forced to moderate his fanboy approach to Putin.
However, his call this week, as Grassley would even have to admit, was a sign that Trump still is not on the right side of the American democratic values when it comes to Putin – or ultimately of history.