Column: A god-awful week in American politics is finally over
What an abominable week.
How bad was it? Let me count the ways.
He returned the favor Thursday by granting knighthood to his congressional acolytes in a rambling, vulgarity-strewn White House victory rant that was like watching a mob boss congratulate his capos for not going against the family in public.
Two days earlier, in Trump’s lie-studded State of the Union speech, he saluted a 100-year-old Tuskegee Airman, then immediately voided the gesture by presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh, one of the most influential racists, misogynists and homophobes ever to take to the airwaves.
In frustration, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has generally demonstrated impressive emotional restraint in her dealings with Trump, literally ripped apart a copy of his speech with her bare hands on national television as the president, his back to her, basked in Republican adoration. “It was the courteous thing to do,” she told reporters moments later, “considering the alternative.”
This gesture of — dare I say — Trumpian disrespect was too much for the delicate sensibilities of Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida. Gaetz is unfazed by Trump’s attempt to squeeze Ukraine for dirt on a political rival, his shameless nepotism or his name-calling. But ripping up a copy of Dear Leader’s speech? Lock her up!
Gaetz filed an ethics complaint against Pelosi, and then he asked the Justice Department for a criminal investigation, citing a law that makes it a crime to destroy some federal records.
Of course, the drama in Washington was preceded by days of monumental screw-ups by Democrats in Iowa.
The first hint that things could go awry occurred two days before the state’s quadrennial caucuses when the much-anticipated Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom poll of likely caucusgoers, always released the Saturday evening before the voting, was scrapped at the last minute. In at least one instance, Pete Buttigieg’s name had been accidentally knocked off the list of candidates by an interviewer who had enlarged the font size on a monitor.
To their credit, the pollsters yanked the whole project. This was not just an inconvenience for outlets such as CNN, which had planned to devote its Saturday night coverage to the poll results. It also meant that candidates had no firm grasp of how they were faring in the state, and how they might best tailor their closing arguments.
The missing poll, however, was a glitch, not a disaster. The disaster came two days later, moments after the state’s nearly 1,700 caucuses ended. The caucuses went off with relatively few hitches, but then ... chaos.
Caucus results, normally phoned in or dropped off in person to election offices, were supposed to be reported via a phone app this year. The app didn’t work.
No shock there. It had barely been tested and caucus chairpersons had little or poor training. But phone lines were also jammed — it now appears by internet trolls who had posted the hotline number — making it impossible for legitimate callers to report the results.
By then, Democratic candidates were long gone, having flown off to New Hampshire not knowing how they stood in Iowa, after spending, in some cases, years and millions of dollars campaigning there.
“It’s almost as if the Iowa caucuses never happened,” said NPR’s Mara Liasson. On the other hand, she added, the botched poll “perfectly predicted the caucus ’cause they didn’t have any results either.”
Who benefited from it all? Republicans, of course.
Democrats can’t even run their caucuses; how can they be expected to run the country?
There was one shining spot in an otherwise awful week: Republican Sen. Mitt Romney’s moment of honor.
Romney, who is in every way the opposite of our crass president, became the only Republican senator to vote to convict Trump in the impeachment trial. He responded “guilty” to Article One: abuse of power.
As every other Republican senator voted in lockstep to acquit a man who has pulled a Pelosi with the U.S. Constitution — ripping it up, which is the real outrage here — Romney’s conscience, guided by his deep religious faith, would not allow him to pretend that Trump had done nothing that merited removing him from office. He is the only Republican senator who put his country and his conscience over his party.
You do not have to like Romney’s politics to appreciate how he rose to the occasion, or to understand the courage it took to buck his party and its vindictive leader. The backlash, already underway, will be ugly.
“I am profoundly religious,” Romney said as he voted to convict Trump. “My faith is at the heart of who I am. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the president, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong.”
Thank you, Mitt Romney, for the silver lining to this dark cloud of a week in American political history.
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