"When will they do the right thing?" the fabulous columnist Tony Bender asked in a piece published March 24.
"They" in this case referred to North Dakota's Republican trifecta of federal representation — Sen. John Hoeven, Sen. Kevin Cramer and Rep. Kelly Armstrong.
"The right thing" in this case referred to Tony's belief that Hoeven, Cramer and Armstrong should speak out against President Donald Trump's authoritarian and dictatorial verbiage. Tony rightly believes Trump's references to the free press being "the enemy of the people" and having "the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump" cross the mark from being applause lines into a danger zone that could foment violence against American citizens.
Also, like every clear-thinking American, Tony was alarmed by former Trump fixer Michael Cohen's assessment that if the president loses his re-election bid in 2020, "that there will never be a peaceful transition of power."
Tony's presumption is that most Republicans in general and the North Dakota trio in specific are alarmed by Trump's words and actions, but won't say anything publicly for fear of political retribution from the president or his supporters. Tony's presumption is that the modern GOP's definition of "the right thing" is America's traditional definition of "the right thing" — that the Constitution and democracy matter above all else..
Tony, my friend, that is ancient and irrelevant history as it relates to the fever that is currently gripping Republicans. There is a better than 50-50 chance that your presumption about lack of GOP pushback against Trump being based on simple cowardice or fear is plain wrong. It's becoming clear Republicans are not only not appalled by the dark side of Trump, but in fact agree with him on most everything.
They're not doing "the right thing" because they believe Trump's authoritarian tendencies and inflammatory talk is the right thing. They see nothing wrong with what the president does or says. Trump is Republicans. Republicans are Trump. There is no longer separation, ugliness and all.
So the white nationalism, the divisiveness, the misogyny, the Islamophobia, the hard tilt toward theocracy — none of it is offensive to Republicans. If it was, the likes of Hoeven and Armstrong (Cramer long ago sold himself 100 percent to Trump) would speak up -- as Tony pointed out -- because your cat could get elected in North Dakota with an R behind its name. There would be no political price for most Republicans if they challenged Trump's ugliest values.
But they don't. So the conclusion must be that they agree with him, 100 percent, on every issue.
Trump's brazenness, hostility and thuggery toward anyone who disagrees with him is not viewed as worrisome by Republicans. Instead it's seen as freedom. The shackles are off. They can be who they are. The president has paved the way. The process toward policy is no longer important and the only thing that matters is getting what they want.
That, Tony, is the modern definition of doing "the right thing." And Republicans are all in, regardless of the eventual price.