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Bill Straub: Character is indispensable, character matters, character first; did someone say ‘character’?


Apparently a person’s character doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in Sen. Rand Paul’s world.

The Bowling Green Republican, who once referred to President Trump (YIKES!) as “a delusional narcissist and an orange-faced windbag,’’ has somehow emerged as the most intense defender of said orange-faced windbag in the upper chamber, going so far as to wage attacks on those who might suggest that The Donald’s integrity is coming up a few points short.

Take the case of Sen. Mitt Romney, R-UT, the erstwhile GOP presidential nominee who penned an op-ed for The Washington Post a few weeks back hinting that the Trumpster hasn’t exactly led folks to forget Abe Lincoln since assuming office.

“On balance, his conduct over the past two years, particularly his actions last month, is evidence that the president has not risen to the mantle of the office,” Romney wrote, stating the obvious.

“A president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity, and elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect,” Romney wrote.

Donald Trump and Rand Paul

“As a nation, we have been blessed with presidents who have called on the greatness of the American spirit. With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable. And it is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring.”

Romney’s claim, which was rather like saying the sun rises in the east, somehow offended Paul’s delicate sensibilities, leading the lawmaker to take to the airwaves in support of the man who once described him as “truly weird,” which was in fact one of the nicer things Trump said about him during his truncated campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

“When you attack someone’s character like that, I think that’s such a low blow and so personally directed and so malevolent…he’s now called his character dishonest and I think that’s a bad way to start in the Senate because I think it’s going to spoil relations between his representation of Utah and the president,” Paul told host Neil Cavuto during one lengthy interview on Fox News.

Paul accused Romney of “virtue signaling,” maintaining that, “When Romney wants to tear down the president’s character, he’s sort of puffing himself up, that he’s somehow so virtuous and somehow above complaint.”

But the meat of Paul’s diatribe came during another Fox News interview, this one with Bill Hemmer, in which he defended what a large number of Americans feel is indefensible.

“My reason for being very vocal is I want to defend the president because I want to defend our agenda and I think our agenda is damaged,’’ Paul said. “You know, tax cuts, less regulation, Supreme Court picks. All that is damaged if you damage the person who has helped bring all that about and that’s the president and Republicans in Congress.”

Aye, there’s the rub.

Here, Paul has let the proverbial cat out of the bag. Senate Republicans really don’t give a fig about the president’s character as long as he serves as a conduit to implementing the policies they most desire. And any effort to upend that delicate balance by a member of the tribe needs to be suppressed pronto.

Taken to its logical extreme, Paul’s statement establishes that he could care less if Charles Manson was president as long as he nominates judicial candidates that pass The Federalist Society litmus test and lays waste to every environmental regulation that crosses his desk.

One is reminded of President Rufus T. Firefly making reference to Mrs. Teasdale in Duck Soup: “Remember, you’re fighting for this woman’s honor, which is probably more than she ever did.”

It is simply inconceivable to view President Donald J. Trump as a man of high moral character. The record is clear. The man prevaricates constantly. As I’ve said plenty of times before, he’d rather climb up a tree and tell a lie than stand on the ground and tell the truth. According to The Washington Post, the president of the United States made 7,645 false or misleading claims during his first 710 days in office and the number has grown substantially since then.

That alone should raise enough red flags to call his character into question right there. But it barely breaks the plastic wrap surrounding the package. His comments about folks from Mexico, calling them rapists and drug smugglers, and his ongoing effort to keep brown people from setting so much as a foot on American soil bespeaks of racism. He is a misogynist as his infamous locker-room talk with former Access Hollywood host Billy Bush fully demonstrates.

Trump had sex with a porn star Stormy Daniels shortly after his current wife gave birth to a son and then arranged a hush money payment to so she wouldn’t blab about it. He was consistently dishonest in his business dealings before assuming the presidency – check the record – and he has continued to make dough off of his various holdings since taking the oath of office.

There’s more folks. A lot more, some stuff we don’t even know about yet. In acceding to his various whims, Senate Republicans like Rand Paul could care less as long as he keeps throwing shekels in their general direction.

It is the ultimate example of the ends justifying the means.

“People ought to remember, people who think they want Republicans and think Republicans are better than Democrats, Donald Trump did something extraordinary. He won Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, that’s how he won the election and no other Republican has been able to duplicate that and we shouldn’t just simply scoff at that and then people try to denigrate and then bring down the president. There’s a lot of good things have happened and that’s what I like to spend my time on.”

The interesting thing, in all the appearances made and tweets issued in support of the president, Paul never once endorsed his character, only saying that, “I keep good relations with the president because I respect the office, I respect the president, Donald Trump. And I try to work with him to try to get good things done.”

So it becomes obvious that Paul and others in the GOP caucus are blithely unconcerned about the character of the man who leads the greatest nation on earth. That’s something new.

Paul is not alone. Asked at a Jan. 15 press conference why he hasn’t commented in the past on what is euphemistically referred to as Trump’s “racially charged” comments, Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root-‘n-Branch’’ McConnell, responded, “It’s been my practice for the last couple of years not to make sort of random observations about the president’s tweeting and other things.”

A real profile in courage there.

In his classic study, The Presidential Character, the late James David Barber, a political science professor at Duke University, who studied every president from Theodore Roosevelt through Lyndon Johnson, concluded that a president’s integrity has a profound impact on the direction of national politics. Voters, he said, “should look to character first.”

Character, Barber said, is “the force, the motive power around which the person gathers his view of the world and from which his style receives its impetus. The issues will change. The character of the president will last.”

“We need presidents who know how the world works and how Washington works in it,” Barber wrote. “Presidents who have mastered the skills it takes to make the White House an efficient machine for social progress. Presidents who can call up from their own characters the steady, hopeful, insistent reasoning to shape a good life from a mixed society. We may yet find the best presidents before the great American adventure stops.”

Or we may find Donald J. Trump and his enabler, Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY.

KyForward’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.


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