It’s hard to take a stand against Trump if you refuse to vote for any alternative


Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, puts his hands in his face during a during a House Committee on Financial Services hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades)

When it comes to the threat posed by former President Trump, Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) undermines his claim of “I will do everything I personally can to make sure he doesn’t win” when he also says, “I’m not voting for Democrats.” (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades / Associated Press)

I can’t say I had “it’s how they write their memoirs” down as a reason why former President Trump would keep top-secret information at his private residence, but hey, what do I know? Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio) is on the House Intelligence Committee, and I’m just a journalist wondering why a member of the House Intelligence Committee would be OK with top-secret information being used in a tell-all.

“What use could a former president have for classified or top-secret information once he’s left office?” CBS’ Ed O’Keefe asked Turner on Sunday, in regard to the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago. “Why bring it home with him to Florida?”

“Well, I don’t know,” Turner responded. “I mean, you have to ask him. But certainly, we all know that every former president has access to their documents. It’s how they write their memoirs. They don’t have, you know, great recall of everything that’s occurred in their administration.”

Nothing like a little top-secret intel to get the old creative juices flowing, I guess.

Turner’s flippant “memoir” explanation is the latest attempt by congressional Republicans to play down any possible wrongdoing by the former president — even if they look silly doing it.

You would think top-secret documents being found in the home of someone with a weakness for authoritarian regimes would be of concern to the House Intelligence Committee. Yet the congressman from Ohio wants voters to think about the files as they would overdue library books. Never mind that the last time classified information was used to beef up a memoir, Gen. David H. Petraeus was forced to resign as CIA director and seek a plea deal.

To be fair, Turner was slow to board the Trump train. In fact, he endorsed late-entry candidate John Kasich for president back in 2016. But after the election, Turner got in line. A few years later, he’s on TV suggesting that the man who tried to overturn the election kept top-secret information in his house to overcome writer’s block.

As the saying goes, life comes at you fast.

Even some of Trump’s harshest critics are having a hard time chastising him without feeling the need to also trash Democrats for cover. The search for a mythological sweet spot where Republicans can protect the brand from Trump while also benefiting from Trumpism has been going on since 2015. Sadly, I fear, we are closer to mockumentary territory than to the perfect political messaging.

Take Turner’s fellow Ohioan, Rep. Anthony Gonzalez. Now, last fall, in discussing why he joined nine other House Republicans in voting to impeach the former president, Gonzalez told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he could no longer trust Trump “even for a few days, to be the commander in chief of our military.”

“It was deeply sad to come to the conclusion that I did,” Gonzalez said. “I felt like I had no choice in the matter. I had to do what I felt was right to protect the country.”

And yet, after saying, “If he is the nominee again in ’24, I will do everything I personally can to make sure he doesn’t win,” Gonzalez went on to say, “I’m not voting for Democrats.” Which flies in the face of “I will do everything I personally can to make sure he doesn’t win.”

The Republicans on the House’s Jan. 6 committee, Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, have echoed similar comments, undermining the seriousness of their grievances against Trump by indirectly painting Democrats as worse. This without evidence of widespread voter fraud, framework of a coup or any other examples of coordinated attempts to overthrow our democracy.

That’s not to say progressives are above reproach. The contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop may not have been used to incite an insurrection, but the investigation deserves more than “whataboutism” quips from liberals regarding Trump’s children.

Still, to suggest that top-secret information can be used to help write presidential memoirs highlights the depths some Republicans remain willing to go to just to protect Trump from the repercussions of his actions. Politicians like Turner would much rather offer nonsensical explanations or water down Trump’s transgressions by saturating debates with false equivalences. Anything to avoid the fallout that comes when powerful people are held accountable.

I agreed when Gonzalez told Tapper: “The country can survive a round of bad policy. The country can’t survive torching the Constitution.”

But the message from Gonzalez and other seemingly reasonable Republicans is hard to take seriously. They tell us that Trump is a threat to democracy, but they also say that voting for a Democrat would be worse. Sometimes when you try to play both sides in politics, you end up playing yourself.


This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.


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