Things are speeding up in Robert Mueller’s universe. In recent days, Donald Trump provided his written responses to the special counsel team’s questions. On top of that, Roger Stone confidant Jerome Corsi refused a plea deal and faces perjury charges. And, on Thursday, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about Trump’s business dealings with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Things, as they say, are coming to a head.
And because of that, it’s important to take a moment and consider how we are going to react when the final report is written. That’s especially true for my conservative friends, who are understandably going to feel squeezed. Conservatives are going to be put in a lot of difficult situations these next few weeks or months. How we react won’t just determine the Republican Party’s future but, perhaps, the country’s as well.
This may seem like a familiar place. Donald Trump’s presidency has had the effect of pushing conservatives to different corners. Some erstwhile conservatives have become so disenchanted with Trump that they have abandoned previously held positions on issues ranging from climate change and guns to the Iraq War. To them, defending Trump has become so untenable and distasteful that it’s easier to wash their hands of it all.
Others have embraced Trumpism, completely. In some cases, this is part of a bargain: We get conservative judges and look the other way on the rhetoric and character flaws. In other cases, there is a lesser-of-two evils paradigm at play. The left is so radical—the media so biased—that the only way to overcome them is stand by our (strong)man. Sure, Donald Trump may not be perfect, we tell ourselves, but Obama and Clinton were bad, too.
The harder move is to stand by enduring conservative principles, and remain a person of character who isn’t afraid to call out Trump when he’s wrong. That path has always been hard, but will be made even harder in the weeks ahead.
As of now, it is still unclear whether Trump is, himself, guilty of “collusion.” But what is clear is that he was surrounded by people who were involved in some very unethical endeavors. Those endeavors are about to become more public; and the public is about to get a big window into the unseemly underbelly of Trumpland.
What should we do then?
The answer is to not to jump at every “Breaking News” headline like it’s a five-alarm fire, but also, not dismiss the seriousness of what’s happening either. Conservatives must resist the urge to act compulsively. We should not feel compelled to defend Trump in these moments simply because he has an R next to his name or because he’s being targeted by people who do not share our values. At the same time, we can’t and shouldn’t rush to condemn the president based on media hysteria or political pressures.
We should be ready to accept the very real possibility that serious misdemeanors were committed and lies told. Frankly, if it becomes clear that the president made foreign-policy or public-policy decisions—while in office—based on the fact that he was in some way (a) compromised, or (b) seeking personal gain by virtue of his position, that would be a bridge too far.
We’re not there yet, but we could get there. And what will conservatives do or say if we do? What will they say if their leader does something so egregious as to render himself no longer worthy of even the most fawning conservative’s loyalty? The people who defend the indefensible—who put “loyalty” to a man (not principle or America) above all else—will not be judged well by history.
Trump has created an environment where every conservative really must be introspective about where they draw the line and at what point they are willing to stand with him. For Republican politicians, it seems highly unlikely there will be any sort of legislation to protect Robert Mueller. But that doesn’t absolve them from wrestling with questions like: What do they do if Trump (or his recently installed acting attorney general) actually goes ahead and fires Mueller?
We’ve been through two years now of Trump. We know how the extremes on both sides are going to react. We know how many liberal Democrats are going to call for impeachment or resignation, regardless of Mueller’s findings. We know how Trump apologists are going to deflect and try to make excuses, regardless of how inexcusable the evidence turns out to be. The real unknown is how honorable conservatives are going to react.
We no longer have the time to put off grappling with these tough issues. If we are to make it through this precarious moment, we must start thinking about this now. The stakes are too high not to.