Rush Limbaugh once defined two kinds of Republicans in Congress: true conservatives and “RINO Republicans, these Republicans in name only” who sought “to gut the conservative agenda.” He identified a third breed after the 2018 midterm elections: “Anti-Trump RINOs” who cost the GOP its majority in the House.
Now, there’s a fourth that’s been described by former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and Michigan Rep. Justin Amash. It’s honest conservatives who secretly wish that the presidency of Donald Trump would come to an end.
Among them, I believe, is U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska.
Soon after the Ukrainian scandal erupted a month ago, an unnamed Republican senator reportedly claimed that 30 of his Republican colleagues would support removing Trump from office if their votes weren’t made public. Flake quickly corrected that figure. “There would be at least 35,” he said.
On Monday, Amash described a similar atmosphere in the House.
Limbaugh put Flake in the Anti-Trump RINO league. The anti-Trump part fits. But he’s not even close to meeting Limbaugh’s definition of a basic RINO. In 2018 the American Conservative Union ranked him the 34th most conservative member of Congress.
Amash, the first Republican in the House to call for impeaching Trump, was 69th.
Sullivan trailed both in 88th place.
Let’s be clear, Sullivan has never been an admirer of Trump’s character and qualifications. The Access Hollywood video that was leaked three years ago gave him an opportunity make a public statement to that effect. But since then, like the rest of his tight-lipped colleagues, he’s been careful not to publicly criticize the president.
So, it wasn’t surprising when Sullivan argued the Ukrainian scandal doesn’t justify impeaching Trump.
“I’ve read all of this, including the transcript,” he told an American Legion audience in Haines earlier this month. “It certainly does not rise to the level of impeachment.”
According to the news reporter who covered the event, Sullivan said there’s no evidence of quid pro quo in the transcript. He urged Alaskans to read it and decide for themselves.
The transcript he’s referring to is the declassified memorandum of the telephone call between Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. As footnoted, it’s “not a verbatim transcript” of the conversation they had, which is part of the reason why Sullivan was wrong to draw conclusions so quickly.
More significantly, as someone who’s been a leader in combating domestic violence since he was Alaska’s Attorney General, Sullivan knows full well that a carefully stated message delivered over the phone is not necessarily indicative of the behavior leading up to and following the call itself. And that’s exactly what he ought to be gleaning from the ongoing congressional inquiry.
On Tuesday, William B. Taylor Jr. submitted a 15-page statement to Congress. It lays out a chronology of communications that explains why, on a call he knew was being monitored, Trump wouldn’t have to explicitly state that the military aid approved by Congress was contingent upon the Ukrainian government publicly announcing two investigations that would improve his re-election prospects. He knew Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, had been directing an advance effort to ensure Zelenskyy understood exactly that.
I’m not suggesting that Taylor’s testimony ought to be the final word. But he’s a very credible witness. He had 50 years of dedicated service to the country, including six in the military, before taking the helm of the U.S. embassy mission in Ukraine in June. He was appointed Ambassador to Ukraine by President George W. Bush in 2006 and recruited for his current position by Mike Pompeo, Trump’s Secretary of State.
If Trump has a real defense to the accusations, it should be somewhere among the subpoenaed documents he’s refusing to submit to Congress. Instead, his primary rebuttal was to call Taylor a “Never Trumper” not long after he tweeted “Never Trumper Republicans … are human scum.”
It’s time for Republicans in Congress who have turned a blind eye to Trump’s self-serving, erratic and disgraceful behavior to come out of the closet and acknowledge he’s unfit for the office he holds. Otherwise, they’ll secure their place in history a rung below RINOs as Republicans who lacked the courage and conscience to stand up for their conservative ideals, and the Constitution they swore to defend.
• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector. :