One of the big stories of the past two years has been President Donald Trump’s slow but concerted effort to mold the Republican Party into an army of lawmakers who are fanatically devoted to shielding his corruption and lawlessness from accountability at all costs.
Central to this mission has been the swift, wrathful punishment of Republicans who dared to criticize Trump in any way, as a string of former lawmakers who have been hounded into retirement or defeated by Trump-backed primary challengers after committing such heresies can attest.
Now Trump and his allies are privately hatching a scheme to banish the latest infidel from the ranks of the GOP: Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, the only Republican to conclude - and voice publicly - that then-special counsel Robert Mueller ‘s findings pointed to impeachable offenses.
Politico reports that Trump and his top advisers have discussed actively backing a primary challenger to Amash - a remarkable move against a member of Trump’s own party that would go much further than merely firing off tweets against him. In these discussions, Politico notes, Trump “has been adamant that the White House take a forceful stand against the congressman.”
With at least one person challenging Amash, this isn’t an idle threat. And other powerful GOP-aligned forces are moving to punish his apostasy: The billionaire DeVos family has cut ties with the congressman as well.
Meanwhile, Trump recently met with a North Carolina congressman who is considering challenging Sen. Thom Tillis in a GOP primary. What heresies has Tillis committed, you ask? Well, he co-sponsored legislation to protect Mueller. And Tillis opposed Trump’s sham national emergency to build his border wall, thundering with great fanfare about its tyrannical tendencies before ignominiously supporting it.
What these examples have in common is that each offender has proved willing to question Trump’s absolute authority to abuse his powers in any way he sees fit. Amash recently received a standing ovation after asserting at a town hall that Trump’s many offenses must not “go unchecked.”
Importantly, Amash has also insisted Congress must launch an impeachment inquiry to prevent Trump’s alternate Russiagate narrative - that the real crimes were committed by the investigators and Democrats - from taking hold. Amash’s primary challenger rebuked him as “out of touch” with “the truth” and the “people he represents.” Amash’s other apostasy here was to challenge Trump’s authority to recreate reality, through relentless disinformation, in the minds of countless Trump voters.
Tillis, for his part, dared to question whether Trump’s national emergency is a legitimate exercise of his authority. In response, North Carolina Republicans immediately said this act had opened the door to primary challenges.
Amusingly, Tillis’ camp has since struck back at one of his primary challengers by accusing him of having questioned Trump’s commitment to conservatism in the past. Now their primary contest is about who is more unflaggingly loyal to Trump.
Amash, by the way, was also one of only 13 House Republicans who opposed Trump’s national emergency. Unlike Tillis, however, he hasn’t backtracked.
Earlier this week, Amash resigned from the Freedom Caucus, a group he helped create, after it held an informal vote to disagree with his views about Trump. Notably, the Freedom Caucus was originally founded to support the principles of “limited government” and “the Constitution and the rule of law.”
Yet, as Jonathan Chait points out, Amash’s ouster shows the degree to which the group has proved “supportive of Trump’s authoritarian power plays” and, indeed, that questioning them “is to disqualify yourself from membership in the group altogether.”
It would be hard to find a more flagrant recent violation of “limited government” than Trump’s national-emergency declaration, or a more blatant recent presidential assault on the “rule of law” than the extensive obstruction of justice that Mueller documented. This has been Amash’s view, but the very act of questioning Trump’s commitment to the Freedom Caucus’s own founding principles has proved sufficient cause for him to resign from it in shame.
To underscore this point, it’s important to note here the rise of Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. Meadows co-founded the Freedom Caucus with Amash, yet according to Politico, he has been in on the discussions with Trump over a primary challenge to Amash.
Meadows, of course, has been one of Trump’s most committed bodyguards against accountability on Capitol Hill. Meadows was a leader in the effort to pervert and weaponize the Intelligence Committee, in the name of fake oversight, into a 24/7 harassment campaign designed to derail a legitimate law enforcement investigation into possible Trump campaign coordination with a sweeping foreign attack on our political system.
This has turned Meadows into one of the “most trusted” of Trump’s “pit bulls on Capitol Hill,” according to Politico, cementing his star status in the Republican Party. By contrast, it’s plausible that Amash will soon be gone from Capitol Hill entirely: Some inside the White House expect Amash to retire.
After all, the alternative for Amash will be to face unceasing retributive wrath for having failed to be sufficiently subservient to Trump and his corruption and lawlessness. And in Trump’s GOP, that’s apparently a fate too awful to contemplate.
Greg Sargent is a columnist with The Washington Post.