The problem for conservatives should be obvious: by failing to stand up for their core values in the face of serial Trumpian outrages, they are effectively letting Trump redefine conservatism. A movement that once insisted that “character matters,” has now internalized Trump’s own moral vacuity, accepting a win-at-all costs ethic, even when the costs are all they said they believed in. Republican elected officials barely raise an eyebrow over evidence that suggests Trump lied about and attempted to cover up hush-money payments to porn stars and Playboy models with whom he had extramarital affairs. The party that once championed free markets now sits by as the President picks winners and losers, proposes massive bailouts and browbeats dissenters in the private sector. Rather than defending constitutional norms, some congressional Republicans have been active participants in the campaign to obstruct and undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. This week, 11 conservative House members filed articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the probe.
I suspect that many Republicans imagine that they will be able to reset the party after Trump leaves the political scene. But this seems increasingly naïve; by allowing themselves to become the party of Trump, they make the stain indelible. They are not servants of the public; they are servants to power.
Unfortunately, it’s hard not to see this as a watershed. Republicans have not only ceded ground to the President, they have done so at profound cost to the norms of liberal constitutional democracy.