The era of Trump has made many in the political sphere believe that the old rules no longer apply, but too many Republicans are finding themselves in trouble because they can’t accept reality, and blame liberal bias for self-inflicted woes.
Liberal bias does exist — in a wide range of American institutions including the mainstream media, Hollywood, and many of our schools and universities — and it means that Republicans often find themselves on an uneven playing field when it comes to the attention their scandals get versus those instigated by their colleagues on the left. We’ve all seen headlines more often mention that it was a “Republican lawmaker” caught up in an illegal scheme, and the party affiliation of a scandal-plagued Democrat buried somewhere around the eighth paragraph.
This is reality. We can complain about it all we want, do what we can to counter it — and I do believe that the development of an independent conservative online media like we aim to provide at RedState is a helpful check on media power — but denying that it’s reality is not just counterproductive; it’s stupid.
Specifically, what’s stupid is Republicans pretending they can engage in ridiculously unethical behavior and get away with it, either by avoiding notice all together, or by blaming liberal bias when they inevitably get caught.
California Congressman Duncan Hunter is the latest Republican to engage in this idiotic charade. The 47-page indictment against Hunter and his wife Margaret details a shocking list of improper uses of campaign funds and financial mismanagement. The Hunters are accused of spending $250,000 of campaign funds on expenses that no reasonable person would believe were legitimate campaign expenditures.
The sordid list includes thousands of dollars worth of purchases at retail chains like Target, Michaels, Party City, and Crate & Barrel, as well as lavish family vacations to Hawaii, Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, London, Italy, and several theme parks and other destinations. There’s a plane ticket so a family pet could join them on one of those vacations. A mileage reimbursement for a trip where Hunter didn’t actually drive. Hundreds of dollars for video games on the Steam platform. Thirty shots of tequila and one steak at a bachelor party.
Not to mention a generous salary for Margaret as campaign manager, even after other staffers repeatedly raised alarms about her improper use of campaign funds.
And perhaps most egregious of all: a purchase of clothing at a golf pro shop that they attempted to claim was “golf balls for wounded warriors,” referring to the veterans’ charity that supports our service members injured in combat.
Hunter’s excuse for spending his campaign donors’ money in a way that would shame even the drunkest of sailors is that he is being unfairly targeted by the “Democrats’ arm of law enforcement.”
“The fact is that there is a culture operating within our Justice Department that is politically motivated,” said Hunter in an official statement. “We are seeing this with President Trump; we are seeing this with my case. This is evidenced by the fact that after two years of investigating, the Department of Justice decided to take this action right before my election.”
The Department of Justice is headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime Republican lawmaker and Republican appointee whose record no rational person would mistake for being liberal, but let’s play Hunter’s game for a moment.
Let’s pretend the DOJ is still headed by Eric Holder, appointed by Barack Obama, or that Hillary Clinton had won in 2016 and had appointed her choice for Attorney General.
Would that excuse any of this spending by the Hunters?
Now, Hunter’s accusation that the timing of the indictment is politically motivated is theoretically possible (again, far more plausible if the DOJ were actually led by Democrats), but if you don’t want to get indicted right before an election, then how about you consider not committing a bunch of crimes right before an election?
Plus, this criminal investigation against the Hunters was publicly reported as far back as March 2017. This indictment was no surprise, and given the sheer breadth of the evidence against them, the only “deep state” involved here is the deep state of denial in which Hunter buried himself.
Yeah, yeah, innocent until proven guilty, but the facts laid out in the indictment are comprehensive and very damning. There are an astounding two hundred examples listed of the Hunters improperly drawing on campaign funds, all while they repeatedly overdrew their personal checking account more than 1,100 times, during a seven-year period.
Campaign finance laws are notoriously tricky, and countless candidates of every political affiliation have committed stumbles. But accidentally grabbing the wrong credit card out of your wallet to pay for a meal and then having to reimburse the campaign later is one thing. Spending campaign funds on clearly personal expenses hundreds of times is an entirely different situation.
It should be noted that Hunter isn’t claiming that the evidence was forged or faked, or that those personal expenses didn’t happen. He’s claiming he’s being treated unfairly, by political motivated prosecutors who want to hurt his chances of reelection.
I don’t buy that for a minute, but even if it were true, the prosecutors can’t just invent two hundred examples of improper expenses. I’m fascinated to hear Hunter’s excuse for how “Punky Brewster items” and “a ring pop” and the “vacation centered on a family member’s participation in a dance competition” in Boise, Idaho were campaign related. Boise is nearly 1,000 miles from Hunter’s district, and Congressional candidates have out-of-state fundraisers all the time, but Boise isn’t exactly a hotbed for that type of thing.
Hunter has no one but himself (and his wife) to blame for the pickle he’s in, and he’s done a terrible disservice to the Republicans in his district. California Republicans are an endangered species, but Hunter’s district is one of the few safe havens for candidates with an “R” after their name: in 2016, the district voted for Trump over Clinton by an overwhelming 54.6% to 39.6%.
If Hunter had been smarter, he would have learned lessons from former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt (resigned after a series of reports about his lavish spending like a soundproof phone booth for his office, a sweetheart deal on a lease for a posh Capitol Hill condo from a lobbyist, and attempts to get official government staffers to run his errands), former White House staff secretary Rob Porter (resigned after allegations by two ex-wives that he was emotionally and physically abusive — including damning photo evidence), former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price (resigned after outcry about his spending over $1 million on travel using private domestic flights and military jets), or former national security adviser Michael Flynn (resigned after being caught lying to Vice President Mike Pence and other members of the Trump administration about his conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition).
Were Pruitt, Porter, Price, and Flynn’s troubles magnified because of media attention? Were the flames of scandal fanned by the increased level of oxygen from a biased and politicized press corps?
Maybe. But again, as I wrote at the beginning of this article, liberal bias is the reality, and if anything, knowing you are under a microscope should encourage better behavior, not used as an excuse for moral failings.
Quit making excuses, Republicans. Get smarter, behave better, and don’t tolerate unethical actions among your ranks. Control of Congress — in this election year and possibly for a generation to come — is at stake.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.