Republicans are sticking to Trump — they're about to reap the whirlwind

Rep. Jamie Raskin on the "fascistic strategy" that's turning the GOP dangerous, incompetent and irrelevant

By Brian Karem


Published February 8, 2024 9:19AM (EST)

Donald Trump and Mike Johnson (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Mike Johnson (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Welcome to the whirlwind.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat and constitutional lawyer, says he doesn’t believe the Republicans can win this fall. “They are floundering to find something to run on,” he said. “They’re losing all over the place. They don’t want solutions, they want problems. With them it’s rule or ruin. Either they want to rule everything or ruin our chances of progressing. That’s a fascistic strategy.”

According to Raskin, the Republicans won’t accept the result of elections unless they win, and are using immigration as a campaign issue for Donald Trump — who may well be ineligible to run for office. “I don’t think he’s legally qualified to be on the ballot,” Raskin said. “It’s clear to me that section 3 of the 14th amendment disqualifies Donald Trump because he participated in an insurrection or rebellion. He violated his oath.” Raskin hopes the Supreme Court will come to the “unavoidable” conclusion that Trump is ineligible for the presidency.

Like I said, the whirlwind.

In 1984, in a place called Rio Bravo just south of Laredo, Texas, a double-wide trailer burst into flames.

As the flames grew in intensity they became a whirlwind of fire that consumed the trailer and another structure nearby. 

That serves as an apt metaphor for today’s Republican politics, and not just on the southern border.

The trailer owners were unable to do anything about the fire because the subdivision they lived in had no running water, or even electricity. At the time of the fire they were also busy fishing a friend’s trailer out of the Rio Grande, where it had been swept after a sudden deluge of rain.

Rio Bravo was, at the time, a subdivision situated next to the Rio Grande, carved out of rented land by a greedy Texas land developer who sold parcels in “open contracts” to undocumented immigrants. Business was so good, he opened a second illegal subdivision (later called “colonias” — a common term in Mexico — as they became popular throughout the Southwest). He named the second one “El Cenizo.”

That’s right. He called the second one “The Ash.” You can’t make that up.

Covering the border between Texas and Mexico was one of my earliest assignments as a reporter. One of my first run-ins with the Trump administration occurred because of Trump’s incredibly obtuse policies regarding the border. At the time I confronted White House press secretary Sarah Sanders — now the governor of Arkansas — about the practice of caging young immigrant children. 

She, of course, claimed to be a Christian and also claimed to be more credible than most reporters. She lied then. She lies now. And Don the Con did not understand, either then or now, the root cause of illegal immigration or how to solve that problem. Trump is not alone. It is an emotional issue, one that nearly every politician has fumbled and few of us understand. It isn’t about criminals marauding through the countryside. It is about hope, despair and disinformation. The U.S. government and the businesses that want a constant supply of cheap labor are responsible for continuing the problem.

Donald Trump has never understood what's driving immigration, but he isn't alone. It is an emotional issue, one that nearly every politician has fumbled and few of us understand.

There has been no meaningful legislation concerning illegal immigration since the Simpson-Mazzoli Act in 1985, which, for the first time, made it illegal to hire undocumented immigrants. In the 40 years since that became law, few if any large companies have ever been prosecuted for hiring any of the millions of immigrants who work in agriculture, construction, thoroughbred racing and numerous other industries. It’s the promise of jobs and a chance to live out the American Dream that drives the “crisis” on the border that has been with us for at least 40 years.

America needs cheap labor. Immigrants from Mexico and Latin America (and other places much farther away) need jobs. In response, there has been a steady deluge of political garbage out of every White House since the Reagan administration, aimed at criminalizing a story of hope in search of votes. 

As the rain continued to fall in Los Angeles this week, causing catastrophic mudslides and flooding, the political rain in Washington also continued, and with similar results.

It engulfed the GOP shortly after sunset on Tuesday, when the House failed by four votes to impeach Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas — for reasons that even some Republicans could not fathom. Rep. Tom McClintock of California, for instance, voted against impeachment for the simple reason that House Republicans failed “to identify an impeachable crime that Mayorkas has committed.” To proceed, he said, would “stretch and distort the Constitution.” 

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The world is in disarray right now. But nothing is in more disarray than the Republican Party, as it suffers both the whirlwind of fire brought about by its own need to generate issues for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and the deluge of stupidity unleashed by those who do his bidding in Congress. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene led the charge in that latter deluge, one of the few things she does with aplomb. She even claimed that Democrats had hidden members on the House floor to confuse the GOP majority as they voted to impeach Mayorkas. Apparently she can’t count to four even if she uses all of her toes. House Speaker Mike Johnson is so inept that he appointed Greene as a spokesperson. He also can’t count votes. Majority Whip Tom Emmer couldn’t find a way to get four more votes from his own caucus. Republicans have vowed to go after Mayorkas again once they figure out how to count. Is there a better definition of incompetent?

None of this has anything to do with “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the constitutional necessity for impeaching officeholders. There is nothing more grimly amusing than watching the GOP’s three-ring circus — which is both led by Donald Trump and staged exclusively for his benefit. 

Trump lost twice on Tuesday. He couldn’t get the votes he wanted to impeach Mayorkas and he lost his bid for “total immunity” in his Jan. 6 criminal case, when three judges on the D.C. Circuit Court delivered circuit judges offered a unanimous and airtight opinion against him. 

The world is in disarray. But nothing is in more disarray than the Republican Party, as it suffers through the chaos and stupidity caused by its own need to generate issues for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

To understand the depth of Trump’s despair, you may be tempted to count the ketchup bottles at Mar-a-Lago. Or you could read at least part of the 57-page court decision which found that Trump can be criminally charged. Meanwhile,  the GOP couldn’t muster anyone brighter than  Greene to speak up about it. “When they came to Washington to protest, you called that an insurrection,” she said. “But when Biden was inaugurated and this Capitol was surrounded with National Guard troops, none of you stood there and called that an insurrection.”

The congresswoman from Georgia proves, once again, that you can be a whirlwind of fiery rhetoric while deluging the populace with extreme ignorance. Oh, and she wants the House to pass a resolution stating that Trump was no insurrectionist. So there is that. 

At the same time the House GOP was trying to impeach Mayorkas, it was also just saying no to a Senate compromise bill that would provide more money and infrastructure on the border along with more support for both Ukraine and Israel. A standalone bill to fund aid to Israel, backed by the GOP, also failed on Tuesday. The border bill failed in the Senate Wednesday, and now that robust body, dominated by aging white men who suffer from incontinence, will have to take up separate funding bills for Ukraine and Israel. 

“All of this is just to give Trump something to run on,” Raskin told me. “My colleagues in the Republican Party are subverting the process for a man who embraces fascism.”

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The failures keep mounting, but don’t expect Mike Johnson to take any responsibility for his part in the fiasco on the House side. He told reporters, “I don't think that this is a reflection on the leader, I think this is a reflection on the body itself." Well, here’s a reminder: He’s the head of that body.

Johnson has promised that any bipartisan legislation sent to the House from the Senate regarding immigration will be “dead on arrival.” Of course Johnson says the border is “an overwhelming emergency” and should be dealt with promptly — but apparently not so much of an emergency that the GOP is willing to accept a compromise solution to a problem that has been ongoing since the last century. The Senate plan — negotiated by James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican; Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat; and Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona independent — would strengthen border security and reduce illegal immigration. The Border Patrol union even supports it – and those folks are not liberal Democrats.

Don’t expect a solution anytime soon. We will get nothing but empty words as Trump’s tempest in a very nasty teapot continues. He wants to delay border legislation indefinitely, so he can run on the issue and take credit for any solution — but only after he wins, which is looking increasingly uncertain the closer we get to Election Day. The decision to deny him immunity seems ironclad, and relies on one of the oldest landmark Supreme Court cases — Marbury v. Madison — to do so. That decision gives courts the ability to strike down laws deemed unconstitutional. So it could be argued that if the Supreme Court takes up Trump’s immunity case and rules in his favor, it will overturn more than 200 years of judicial decisions and eliminate the Supreme Court as an equal partner in government. 

To quote the D.C. Circuit decision: “As the Supreme Court has unequivocally explained: No man in this country is so high that he is above the law. No officer of the law may set that law at defiance with impunity. All the officers of the government, from the highest to the lowest, are creatures of the law and are bound to obey it. It is the only supreme power in our system of government, and every man who by accepting office participates in its functions is only the more strongly bound to submit to that supremacy, and to observe the limitations which it imposes upon the exercise of the authority which it gives. ... That principle applies, of course, to a President.” 

The court also found that the president is “amenable to the laws for his conduct,” and “cannot at his discretion” violate them. 

Finally, the court found that Trump was a “citizen,” not a king: He “lacked any lawful discretionary authority to defy federal criminal law and he is answerable in court for his conduct.”

Harry Litman of the Los Angeles Times offered an explanation on X of what took the D.C. circuit so long: “They opted, probably from the start, to make it per curiam — basically one voice. That gives it even added force. And that might have required extensive compromising negotiation to get it just right.”

That means the Supreme Court might actually refuse to hear Trump’s appeal on the immunity case — something he fears and that many court watchers say is possible now that the D.C. Circuit has done the heavy lifting and penned an exquisite opinion. At any rate, even if the Supreme Court takes up the case, many experts believe Trump will still face a criminal trial, at the latest, by fall.

In the short term, do not expect any legislation regarding immigration to pass the Senate or House. Expect Donald Trump to use the time to raise money while he continues to fight his battles in court and keeps his political party running interference for him.

After Kevin McCarthy and Mike Johnson and Mitch McConnell; after its inability to pass any legislation, the Republican Party is undeniably broken, unable to lead and woefully lacking in common sense.

Trump’s last wild ride in the public domain is in its death throes. His whirlwind is consuming him. His supporters are holding on, and those who need him the most, like Marjorie Taylor Greene, are  defending him so they can stay as relevant as possible (and perhaps evade criminal charges) in a world that increasingly sees Trump and his minions for what they are; soulless hacks with a need and desire for great personal power at the expense of humanity.

What this means for the GOP is obvious: After Kevin McCarthy and Mike Johnson; after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; after its inability to pass any legislation, the party is undeniably broken, unable to lead and woefully lacking in common sense. It is dedicated to the edification and protection of one of the worst politicians ever to rise to prominence in our republic. 

Trump’s former chief of staff, John Kelly, described him as “a person that has no idea what America stands for and has no idea what America is all about.” 

Lead? The GOP is incapable of that. Follow? It won’t follow anyone except Trump, and it will never get out of the way — unless we collectively kick it to the curb. Or right into that whirlwind.

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

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Commentary Donald Trump Elections Jamie Raskin Mike Johnson Republicans Supreme Court