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How Republican elites learned to stop worrying and love the Donald

President Reagan greets Sen. Jesse Helms at a dinner honoring the North Carolina Republican in this June 16, 1983 photo in Washington. (AP Photo, Ed Reinke)

Dan linked to it below but Chotiner’s interview of Danielle Pletka is an amazing document of how Republican elites have with very few exceptions gone all-in for Trump. There are too many intelligence-insulting whataboutisms to count, but here’s a representative sample:

I’m asking because he talked about liberating Michigan. And then what he said about Kyle Rittenhouse.

Well, again, Donald Trump’s reaction, for example, in the wake of Charlottesville was abhorrent. I find an unwillingness on the part of many to condemn the destruction that takes place. The shootings, the violence, the threatening that’s been taking place—I find that also extraordinarily troubling. Now, is it incumbent upon the President to behave better? Damn, yes. That is why, for the last three and a half years, I’ve done very little but condemn Donald Trump on these matters. I try to be fair in calling balls and strikes, as I tried to be fair with Obama. I’m a conservative, so my view of what a ball and a strike is is different from yours. Nonetheless, those things are abhorrent. The problem that I see and the problem that brought me to write this is that there is an almost equal and opposite reaction on the other side.

Needless to say, the reaction that is “equal and opposite” goes unspecified. “Donald Trump routinely inspires racist violence, but a sophomore at Oberlin questioned whether it was appropriate to call a mixture of Chicken of the Sea tuna and Heinz 57 sauce spread over Wonder Bread ‘sushi’ so really Both Sides Do It and I’ll take my upper-class tax cut, thanks.”

But this really gets to the core of the issue:

You wrote, “I fear that a Congress with Democrats controlling both houses—almost certainly ensured by a Biden victory in November—would begin an assault on the institutions of government that preserve the nation’s small ‘d’ democracy.” You then list things Congress would do and include national health care on the list.

Because, again, I think that if you have a unitary executive and legislative branch with absolutely no safeguards other than the courts, that they will usher in—like they did Obamacare, like they did the Iran deal—things that are fundamentally anti-democratic, or at least in anti-democratic spirits, things that will be bad for our country.

I’ve written about this before, but it’s remarkable how Republicans convinced themselves that it was “undemocratic” for a duly elected House majority and Senate supermajority to enact legislation the president won a landslide running on that Republicans have trouble repealing because it’s too popular. Needless to say, it’s Pletka’s views on healthcare that have no mass constituency because they’re grossly immoral, and Republican efforts to have the federal judiciary strike down the ACA base on endless series of idiotic ad hoc pretexts that threaten democracy. But when you start from the premise that it’s inherently illegitimate for Democrats to govern you can justify anything.

Equally instructive is her tapdancing around the lifelong racism of her beloved mentor Jesse Helms:

Saying this now about racial issues, how do you feel in hindsight about your work with Senator Helms? [Helms was known for decades of race-baiting campaign tactics and vehement opposition to the civil-rights movement.]

I did foreign policy for Senator Helms. I worked for the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As far as I was concerned, in my work with him, he never uttered a racist statement, never betrayed a racial bias. To the contrary. And believed more than many of the people I worked with in human freedom, human rights, equality of opportunity. He fought for people who were disadvantaged. So there may have been a Jesse Helms one day who did things that were wrong.

You know things that were wrong. This isn’t a “may.”

But I worked for him on the Middle East and South Asia, and I was very proud of what we accomplished.

You know his record on South Africa, though, correct? [Helms opposed any sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa. When Nelson Mandela visited the Capitol in 1994, soon after he was elected South Africa’s first post-apartheid President, Helms turned his back on him.]

I didn’t work on South Africa. I worked on the Middle East and South Asia.

I understand that. But I’m saying you must know about the guy’s career? I mean, the Civil Rights Act, the Martin Luther King holiday, his interactions with Carol Moseley Braun, his ads, his comments about South Africa and African National Congress. This stuff isn’t completely unknown to you.

I’m not quite sure what this has to do with my article.

You said that you were opposed to racism and all its forms. And I was just asking whether you had—

Are you questioning whether I’m opposed to racism and all its forms?

I was questioning whether someone who is opposed to racism in all its forms has any second thoughts about Jesse Helms. Yes, that’s what I was asking.

Interesting question.

O.K., so we’re not going anywhere with that. Do you think that’s an unfair question? You’ve spoken out against Trump’s racism, and you’ve spoken out against racism of all sorts. I thought it was fair to ask about Helms, that’s all.

I think it’s fair to ask me anything you’d like. I’m assuming you think that it’s fair that I won’t answer certain questions, because you seem to want to trap me and discredit my views. So I’m just going to leave this topic alone, if that’s O.K., Isaac.

“I oppose racism in all its forms except the words and actions of Republican elected officials” is the bottom line here. And ultimately the Republican coalition is all racists or people who are fine with racists being in charge of public policy, and there’s not actually a meaningful moral distinction there.

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