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The Grand Obstruction Party

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Before the full scope of his disclosures became clear on Wednesday, the first thing we learned about Steve Bannon’s extended dishing to author Michael Wolff was his opinion that the Trump campaign’s collaboration with Moscow was real, “treasonous,” and likely to land the president’s family in serious legal trouble.

“Even if you thought [meeting with Russian spies in Trump Tower] was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately,” Bannon said, adding that Trump and his senior advisers may have sealed their own fates. “Their path to fucking Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr., and Jared Kushner…. It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner shit. The Kushner shit is greasy.”

The media’s interest in Bannon’s comments quickly shifted to President Trump’s decision to publicly excommunicate his former adviser, and eventually to Trump’s lame legal efforts to silence Wolff. But in between, something very revealing happened.

Confronted with the assessment of Trump’s former campaign chairman that the Russia investigation is serious and likely to uncover yet more crimes, the Republican establishment—which is generally thought of as a more staid and institutionalist force than the nihilistic Breitbart impresario—scolded Bannon for not feeding Trump’s most authoritarian impulses.

Mitch McConnell’s former chief of staff Josh Holmes said Bannon had wandered “off the reservation.” Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) blasted Bannon for letting himself be quoted criticizing the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russians. Once Trump lit into Bannon the floodgates of Republican criticism opened.

Bannon made himself the scourge of Republican Party officials, and McConnell in particular, by working to support a bunch of loathsome Republican primary candidates. But the decision to drive a wedge between him and Trump on this particular issue reveals something critical about the GOP’s disposition toward Trump’s misconduct. The Republican establishment is running tighter cover for Trump over historically scandalous and likely criminal actions than the man who stood by Trump, and later Roy Moore, after learning they were sexual predators. Party leaders view allegations of legal wrongdoing against Trump not as a potential problem for their party and the country, but as a kind of betrayal of Trump himself. If and when full documentation of his crimes emerges, they will go to great lengths to make sure he faces no repercussions.

In this and other ways, Wednesday’s bombshells were more clarifying than revolutionary, particularly for discerning news consumers.

Bannon isn’t a reliable narrator of almost anything, including the merits of the Russia scandal itself, but he has shown a revealing consistency on the question of Trump’s handling of that issue. His antipathy to Jared Kushner, and efforts to pin the whole Russia affair on him go back months. When he left the White House he called Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey among the biggest errors in modern political history. When the rest of the right wing was advancing the notion that the Russia investigation was phony and rigged, some anonymous figure “close to the administration” called the investigation “a classic Gambino-style roll-up,” that will “reach everyone in this administration.” It remains a huge mystery who that person was, but by completely fake coincidence, Bannon used the same language when he told Wolff that Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller is “going to roll [Kushner and Donald Trump, Jr.] up and say play me or trade me.”

Perhaps for fear that Bannon is right, Republicans have tried to discredit Mueller and end his probe. Two particularly Bannnonesque Republicans, Mark Meadows, and Jim Jordan, published an op-ed on Thursday putting forth a flimsy pretext for firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, so that he can be replaced with a new Attorney General who will fire Mueller. With Paul Ryan’s blessing, the House Intelligence Committee is now fully dedicated to running counter-ops against Mueller and the FBI, and has breached their investigation.

But there are no Republicans on the other side of the party providing any kind of counterweight. On Thursday, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO)—who did not vote for Trump and who, as chairman of the Senate GOP campaign committee refused to raise money for Roy Moore—rose to the defense of Coloradans, who legalized marijuana several years ago.

As right as Gardner was to take this stand, not a single Republican, including himself, has put anything like the same kind of effort into stopping Trump’s unprecedented corruption, or defend the integrity of the Russia investigation. At this point, if any of them tried, they’d stand a good chance of being driven out of the party for venturing “off the reservation” in much the same way Bannon was.