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T.J. Kirkpatrick, The New York Times/ President Donald Trump in the Cabinet Room at the White House on Friday.

Once upon a time, both of America's current political parties believed in the Constitution. We say once upon a time with the realization that the fairy-tale implication is just that. We thought both parties believed in the Constitution but maybe we were dreaming.

Certainly if it were true, it must not be now. Otherwise, Donald Trump's abuse of his position for personal and political gain would have led to his removal from office months if not years ago.

But now it seems the elected officials in Trump's party have no bottom when it comes to excusing him and defending him. Even Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and a member of the House committee that convened the impeachment inquiry hearings, has signaled he'll vote no on impeachment.

Why are Republicans so determined to voice no criticism — let alone no accountability — on this lawless president? Because they fear for their own hides in primary challenges.

Should they acknowledge that the impeachment witnesses blew holes in their every defense and demonstrated not one but several "smoking guns," they then would be branded and banished, just as Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan was when he dared acknowledge publicly that he believes Trump should be impeached. The GOP immediately called for Trump Republicans to challenge Amash. Some called for his resignation. Instead, the libertarian who has been called the most conservative House member left the Republican Party in July and announced he would become an independent.

What we've thought really puzzling, though, is why even retiring and retired members of the House and Senate stay quiet. That would include statesmen like Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker — both of whom duck the question each time it is asked.

Instead, Republicans questioning impeachment inquiry witnesses last week often flatly inverted the testimony into its diametrically opposite meaning. And some clung tightly to conspiracy theories.

They invoked words like hearsay when more than one witness plainly said they "heard the president say" or the president "told me" he wanted Ukraine to investigate a political opponent. And never mind that pesky transcript the White House released in which Trump plainly asks the new Ukrainian president to investigate the Bidens by name and to find some mythical evidence that, in Trump's mind, would absolve the Russians in the 2016 election meddling. How much more direct linking should one need?

The only reasonable fallback for Republicans now would seem to be one of simply saying, yes, there were abuses but we don't think they rise to the level of impeachment. Yet Republicans don't seem inclined even to make that much of a criticism against Czar Trump.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has a theory. He points to that age-old motivational trail of bread crumbs we in journalism call "follow the money."

Writes Krugman: "What, after all, do retired officials do for a living? Many become lobbyists, and in an era of extreme polarization that means lobbying their own party. Being honest about why you quit would be bad for future business. Beyond that, the modern U.S. right contains many institutions — Fox News and other media, right-wing think tanks, and others — that offer sinecures to former officials. However, this 'wing-nut welfare' — which has no counterpart on the left — is available only to those who continue to toe the line."

Those safe havens, though, may have a long waiting line before Trump's term is up. Already 20 GOP House members have announced they are leaving Congress. Across the aisle the comparative number of Democrats planning retirement is only eight, and one of those, Hawaii's Tulsi Gabbard, is a candidate for president.

If Krugman is right — and he may well be — that's a pathetic vote of confidence for what was once a proud and courageous Republican tradition of morality.

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