Why Do Republicans Keep Defending Donald Trump?

The past week has revealed a new principle in American politics: As President Trump grows more unhinged, his allies in Congress grow evermore committed to his administration. Why Do Republicans Keep Defending Donald Trump?

The new year began where the last one left off, with a spate of alarming outbursts and transgressions. There was the president’s social media brinksmanship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un about the size of his “nuclear button.” “Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much better & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” Trump wrote on Twitter. Given high tensions between the United States and North Korea, it was a dangerous move that further inflamed the situation.

The public was just beginning to absorb the consequences of that rhetoric when Michael Wolff gave us a distressing glimpse into the Oval Office with Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. It is the portrait of a White House dedicated to pacifying a plainly unqualified president with childlike demands for attention and praise. Wolff, a longtime business writer with a checkered relationship to the truth, is an unreliable narrator, and his claims should be taken with appropriate caution. Still, he paints a picture that fits what we already know about the president, whose ignorance, impulsiveness, and disordered thinking is present in speeches, press conferences, and interviews.

Soon after Wolff’s revelations, the New York Times detailed President Trump’s effort to stop Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself in the Justice Department’s investigation into potential “collusion” between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Trump pressed his counsel, Donald McGahn, to lobby Sessions to intervene on his behalf, a choice that stems from Trump’s Republicans belief that Eric Holder had protected President Obama from legal scrutiny while he served as attorney general. Legal scholars believe Trump’s actions may constitute obstruction of justice, the offense that ensnared Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal.

As if to confirm the suspicions about his capacities, President Trump spent Saturday morning bragging about his mental prowess. “Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart,” said the president, adding that “I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!”

Here was Trump inaugurating his second year as president with behavior demonstrating how unfit he is for the job. And because Democrats are out of power in Congress, the responsibility for addressing this falls to Republicans, who reacted not with concern but with apologetics.

“I feel an obligation to help him where I can,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham on NBC’s Meet the Press. “I’ve enjoyed working with him. I don’t think he’s crazy. I think he’s had a very successful 2017. And I want to help him where I can. And we should all want him to be successful. He’s got a lot on his plate.”

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