Michael Cohen proves why we can never stop blaming GOP primary voters for electing a criminal


Sometimes, it takes a mother to get to the heart of the matter and really distill something down to its essence. My mom and I were talking after former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s testimony before the House Oversight Committee, and she was expressing, shall we say, her disdain for the president and his many misdeeds. When it comes to the raw, partisan id that progressive Democrats feel in the Trump era, her feelings on the matter are pretty representative. We were on the phone, but I could almost see the expression of scorn on her face when, after summing up the litany of Trump transgressions Cohen had documented, she said something along the lines of: “I’ll never forgive the Republicans for picking that (insert unprintable adjective) guy.” Mom, I couldn’t agree more.

Before looking at what we heard (and saw) this week in the Cohen testimony, as well as other revelations that demonstrate what kind of person our country is being led by at present, let us briefly go back to the 2016 campaign. Make no mistake, I’m not saying I’d be thrilled to have, for example, a President Rubio, or Bush, or Kasich—let alone a President Ted Cruz (let’s leave aside the tantalizing possibility that nominating someone other than Trump might have led to President Hillary Clinton). On policy grounds, and perhaps even in terms of their ability to get conservative legislation passed, one or more of those guys might have been more even effective, and thus more harmful in that sense, than Trump as president.

Either way, can you imagine that any of them, while holding the office held by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, FDR, and Barack Obama, would have paid hush money to cover up an affair with a woman who gets paid to have sex on camera? Yes, every human being is flawed in some way. Trump, however, is in a bigly big league of his own.

While it was far from the only matter Cohen discussed in his public testimony, the evidence he presented about the money he paid—on Trump’s behalf, and for which Trump reimbursed him—will be among the most lasting images of the Trump presidency. That evidence will be his presidency’s blue dress.

The check Cohen presented to Congress—which became Exhibit 5A of his testimony—along with documentation of his having paid a sum of money to Stormy Daniels (aka Stephanie Clifford) that matches exactly the amount Trump paid him back, connectsthe dots in the commission of a felony crime by the president of the United States. Cohen explained the scheme as follows:

"I am giving the Committee today a copy of the $130,000 wire transfer from me to Ms. Clifford’s attorney during the closing days of the presidential campaign that was demanded by Ms. Clifford to maintain her silence about her affair with Mr. Trump," Cohen said.

He said Trump "directed me to use my own personal funds from a Home Equity Line of Credit to avoid any money being traced back to him that could negatively impact his campaign."

I want you to try and picture those words being uttered—under oath and accompanied by physical documentation—by anyone who worked for President Barack Obama. In reality, you can’t, because Barack Obama is, in every way, the exact moral opposite of Donald Trump, both in terms of personal as well as public behavior.

Here’s one other image for you: sitting in the Oval Office, the room where presidents have signed into law measures that have sought to guarantee the rights of every American, President Donald Trump signed a check that sought to guarantee no one would ever know he had had sex with a porn star.

Beyond Cohen’s testimony, we also learned this week that Individual 1 made a complete mockery of the process for granting security clearances when it came to his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Could you see President Barack Obama doing anything like this? Of course not. But just envision the Republican response if he had taken the kind of actions described in the Washington Post:

President Trump early last year directed his then-chief of staff, John F. Kelly, to give presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner a top-secret security clearance — a move that made Kelly so uncomfortable that he documented the request in writing, according to current and former administration officials.

After Kushner, a senior White House adviser, and his wife, Ivanka Trump, pressured the president to grant Kushner the long-delayed clearance, Trump instructed Kelly to fix the problem, according to a person familiar with Kelly’s account, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.

Kelly told colleagues that the decision to give Kushner top-secret clearance was not supported by career intelligence officials, and he memorialized Trump’s request in an internal memo, according to two people familiar with the memo and the then-chief of staff’s concerns.

But Hillary Clinton was the one who couldn’t be trusted to respect national security protocols. Because of her emails. Right. I can just feel my mom getting angrier and angrier.

Republican primary voters can’t claim they didn’t know what kind of person Trump was before they nominated him over 16 other candidates. The catalog of his disgusting personal behavior is too vast to recount here, but the level of fame he enjoyed before announcing his candidacy leaves no doubt that the vast majority of people who voted to make him the GOP nominee for president knew all about his history of sexism and womanizing, which includes serious, multiple accusations of sexual misconduct and assault. On a related note, they also knew about his racism—hell, they watched him announce his campaign by hurling slurs at Mexican immigrants (that was, for many Republican voters, a main reason to vote for him).

And that last point is vital. I’m not saying Republican primary voters preferred a sleazebag over a choirboy (or girl). However, it is clear that Trump’s sleaze mattered little more to those voters than their man’s marital vows mattered to him. I’m not holding general election Trump voters blameless, of course. But that’s a different kind of vote. At least there one can talk about partisanship, ideological beliefs, and those who maybe voted for Trump while not actually liking him.

Republican primary voters, on the other hand, had plenty of other conservative options, and tens of millions of them nonetheless chose someone they knew was a disgusting and vile human being to be their standard-bearer. For that, they can never earn forgiveness.

Ian Reifowitz is the author of The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (forthcoming in May 2019).

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