Trump-loyal Republicans crashed a secure House hearing and abandoned all sense | John L. Micek

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 02: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto in the Oval Office of the White House on October 02, 2019 in Washington, DC. The two leaders will reportedly discuss 5G wireless technology and European and Arctic security during bilateral meetings and later hold a joint news conference in the East Room. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Maybe they thought they were standing up for principle.

How else to explain the Republican lawmakers who dramatically barged into a closed-door meeting of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday to protest an ever-expanding impeachment probe of President Donald Trump.

But whatever principle they were defending — in this case, the fairness and transparency of the Democrat-led impeachment probe collapsed utterly in the media circus that quickly enveloped the proceedings.

“I led over 30 of my colleagues into the SCIF where Adam Schiff is holding secret impeachment depositions,” U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., tweeted on Wednesday morning, according to the Washington Post, referring to the “Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility” that is used when matters of the most urgent secrecy are being discussed.

“Still inside — more details to come,” Gaetz added, sounding more like a cable news anchor than an elected member of the world’s greatest legislative body. Democrats, not without reason, criticized Republicans for bringing their phones into an area where phones are explicitly banned for security reasons.

As it turned out, more than half of the self-styled “protesters,” who acted with Trump’s blessing, were free to attend the hearing and ask questions, Rob George, of the New York Daily News’ editorial board, tweeted.

“But imperiling national security by violating SCIF rules was more important,” George opined.

Even in a building where political sideshows are omnipresent — and often bipartisan — the GOP’s dangerously irresponsible tactics stood out for two reasons. First, that Republicans were seemingly only too willing to trample on security concerns to score cheap political points.

Second, and most importantly, the stunt was visible confirmation that congressional Republicans have surrendered their constitutionally mandated oversight responsibilities, and now simply serve as clueless adjuncts to an increasingly unstable chief executive who’s just one tweetstorm away from eviscerating them in the most public — and often most personal — of terms.

Somewhere, James Madison, who warned against the dangers of demagogues, is spinning in his grave at the legislative branch’s acquiescence to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

An Oct. 20 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute paints a vivid picture of the starkness of the current partisan divide of the impeachment debate.

While overall support for impeaching Trump and removing him from office has grown steadily since February 2017 (the month after he took office), when it was 30 percent, to the 47 percent where it has hung steadily since October 2018, the divides among the partisan faithful are far more stark.

Nearly eight in 10 Democrats (78 percent) say Trump should be impeached and removed from office, according to the PRRI poll.

Support among Republicans has remained steadfast, with 94 percent saying he should not be impeached and removed from office, the poll found. It adds that “feelings are essentially unanimous among two subsets of Republicans.”

The first are white evangelical Protestants, who, however distasteful they find Trump’s personal conduct, are absolutely entrenched in their support at 99 percent. The second is Republicans who say their primary source of news is Fox News (98 percent).

Support cuts across educational lines with 96 percent of Republicans with a college degree opposing impeachment, compared to 92 percent who do not hold a college degree, the poll shows.

Just a handful of elected Republicans have stepped up to criticize Trump for his now-infamous phone call with Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelenskiy, where he sought a quid pro quo for dirt on Biden. It’s only gone downhill from there, with others in the White House’s orbit swept into the probe.

They include U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who has called Trump’s attempts to solicit foreign meddling in the 2020 election “wrong and appalling.”

Romney, according to Axios, hasn’t made up his mind on impeachment. Romney told the political news outlet’s Mike Allen that he’s looking for “as much information” as he can get, and wants to “make an assessment consistent with the law and the Constitution” if the House ends up sending impeachment articles to the Senate, which seems a pretty good bet at the moment.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., said he was open to impeaching Trump. A day later, he announced he’d retire in 2020, Politico reported. And U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, the Republican turned independent from Michigan, has said he’ll join House Democrats on impeachment, The Hill, a publication that covers Congress, reported.

Unfortunately, at least right now, there are more Republicans in the Gaetz camp and not enough on Romney’s side of the ledger — at least publicly. Republicans who nurse grievances against Trump in their hearts, while remaining publicly supportive of the president, may decide there’s a point of no return where they’ll have to be as loyal to Trump as the president has been to them.

Which is to say, not at all.

Because in Trumplandia, loyalty is a one-way street. And that’s the point at which Trump may become the third president to be impeached by the House — and the first in American history to be convicted in the Senate.

And maybe then Madison can rest easy again.

An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.