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Is GOP seeing first steps to accountability?

York Dispatch

Politicians are notoriously negligent when it comes to holding members of their own party accountable, none more so, of late, than Republicans.

Accountability is seemingly a stranger in conservative political circles, where outlandish claims are applauded, base behavior is rewarded, and ethical misdeeds are ignored by voters and lawmakers alike.

As ever, former President Donald Trump is Exhibit A.

Despite a list of allegations, investigations and indictments for everything from falsifying business records to election tampering to suspicious handling of classified documents, the Republican presidential nominee is seeing his lead in the polls grow over presumptive opponent Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.

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FILE - Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., leaves a House GOP conference meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 25, 2023.  (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Some of this may be due to DeSantis, whose penchant for codifying into state law his loathsome ideology regarding history, education and equal rights is playing poorly beyond his base. (Both the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens have gone so far as issue travel advisories for Florida, which the NAACP slammed as, “openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals.”)

But it’s hard to imagine any Republican opponent gaining traction against the former president, who has solidified a majority of Republican voters under personally branded banners and red baseball caps (at $50 a pop). Indeed, the other declared candidates, former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, are basically flatlining in the polls, as is undeclared but likely candidate former Vice President Mike Pence.

And don’t look for lawmakers to step into the accountability void. Most of the few who tried, such as Liz Cheney of Wyoming, got swept out of politics by a wave of discontented Trump supporters.

And it’s not just Trump who benefits from lawmakers’ refusal to police their own.

House Republicans last week beat back an effort by minority Democrats to have disgraced Rep. George Santos expelled. The Long Island Republican was charged by federal prosecutors this month with 13 counts of wire fraud, money laundering and theft of public funds.

Rather than take immediate action against Santos, whose successful 2022 campaign was punctuated with lies about his past and questionable financing, House Republicans instead voted unanimously to punt the issue to the Ethics Committee.

Those federal charges, however, may mark a change of fortunes for Santos, much as a jury decision that same week may inject a dose of real-world consequences into the Trump campaign.

A jury this month found Trump liable for sexual abuse against advice columnist E. Jean Carroll in the 1990s and ordered him to pay $5 million in judgments. The combative defendant, always so garrulous and defiant on social media, declined to take the stand to defend himself — or even attend the trial.

For a pair of fabulists on the scale of Trump and Santos, being called to account in ways that can be neither ignored nor tap-danced away cannot have been welcome. It also cannot have come too soon.

Friendly voters and partisan lawmakers may refuse to hold Trump and Santos accountable, but the courts and the justice system aren’t so easily swayed — or forgiving.

The dust hasn’t yet settled. Trump is appealing the judgement and Santos is denying the charges. But both have been forced to face up to their crimes and misdeeds in ways they have avoided for far too long. Accountability appears to be on the horizon.

It shouldn’t be far-fetched to demand public officials be held accountable for their actions. There are no two better examples of the crying need for that standard to be upheld than Trump and Santos.