It’s a rare occasion when the state Republican Party openly parts ways with its national leadership. That’s what appears to be happening regarding the impeachment defense strategy of President Donald Trump. And that makes it easier for Sen. Dan Sullivan to follow the independent path blazed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
“As far as supporting or opposing the president, we support individualism and we support individual freedom of expression” Tuckerman Babcock told NBC News in response to questions about Murkowski’s refusal to endorse a Republican-sponsored resolution condemning the House impeachment inquiry. He explained that freedom applies to all politicians in the state and added “Republicans here may disagree with her on certain things, but I can say safely that they respect her independence of judgment.
It’s important to put Babcock’s statement alongside his past hard line positions against party members who broke from the ranks. The freedom not to support Trump is an exception to the rule.
Babcock was party chairman when Murkowski voted against repealing Obamacare two years ago. Trump tweeted she “really let the Republicans, and our country, down.” Babcock echoed that by saying he didn’t know if she could “repair the relationship with Republican voters in Alaska.”
Six months later, three Republicans elected to the State House of Representatives decided to caucus with Democrats. “We respect their right to do that” Babcock wrote in an op-ed. And then proceeded to argue they’d forfeited their right to remain members of his party.
Then he was “shocked and disappointed” when Murkowski didn’t vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. “Among Republicans” he said, “the response is pretty uniformly negative.”
And most recently he called six fellow Republicans in the state senate “arrogant and disrespectful” for refusing to confirm Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s first choice to fill a vacant senate seat.
Now, Babcock claims to respect Murkowski’s independence.
Relaxing his demand for party loyalty has a simple explanation. Within the party, repealing Obamacare, confirming Kavanagh and his criticisms of state Republican legislators were all defensible positions. Trump’s impeachment defense isn’t anymore.
Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee put that fact on display when they questioned Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman on Tuesday. Following Trump’s strategy of insulting the integrity of every witness who testifies against him, they suggested the decorated military officer may not be loyal to the nation and Constitution he swore to defend.
Part of the reason behind that line of attack was explained by Trump himself. “I don’t know Vindman at all” he said at the White House. “What I do know is that even he said the transcript was correct.”
Trump mistakenly believes the non-verbatim transcript of his July 25 call with the Ukrainian president is the only evidence that matters is this case. And that it offers proof the call itself was “perfect.”
But many Republicans have acknowledged being troubled by the transcript. They also understand the documented events that preceded and followed the call are even more damaging.
Along the way, every other line of defense essentially collapsed. So, they’re left with arguing that the witnesses defying White House orders not to testify are all unelected career officials motivated by their dislike of Trump or loyalty to the Democratic Party.
And so it was for Vindman. He’s “a low level partisan bureaucrat and nothing more,” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted on Tuesday.
The inconvenient truths Trump ignored are Vindman’s 25 years of service as a military officer. The Purple Heart he received for wounds suffered in combat during the Iraq War, that his foreign officer assignments were all under a military command, and that he was picked for his current military duty on the White House National Security team after Trump became president.
For partisan politicians to ignore Vindman’s record while suggesting, without evidence, that he’s capable of betraying the country, is beyond disgraceful.
As a lawyer and U.S. Senator, Sullivan swore to defend the Constitution. And as a military officer like Vindman, he understands better than most what that oath really means. That’s why it’s imperative he condemn his party’s desperate defense of Trump right now. And continue upholding his oath by honestly considering the merits of removing him from the White House.
• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector.