Five years ago, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt knew what to do when a moral crisis of national proportion flew through the air and smacked him in the head.
That’s when Todd Akin’s remarks about “legitimate rape” soared into the stratosphere and sent Akin’s once-promising Senate bid into the gutter.
That summer, Blunt joined four former GOP senators from Missouri — Jack Danforth, Kit Bond, Jim Talent and John Ashcroft — and demanded that Akin quit the race. Akin’s remarks, the four said in a statement, were “totally unacceptable.”
Fast forward to this week, and Blunt, who’s a member of Senate leadership, has said little about Charlottesville, Va. He has said little about President Donald Trump blaming “both sides” for what transpired last weekend in comments that have only inflamed racial tensions.
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This, though, is the wrong week to be demure. It’s precisely the right time to condemn a president’s remarks that were pathetically off-base.
But we haven’t gotten that from Blunt. On Saturday, we got a generic tweet saying that “the hate and violence in Charlottesville have no place in America.”
At the Missouri State Fair on Thursday, Blunt finally inched further in response to reporters’ questions, acknowledging there was no moral equivalency between the groups marching in Charlottesville. He again avoided criticizing Trump, as so many of his fellow Republicans have done, and even defended him, saying, “I think when the president condemned those groups specifically, that was the right place for him to be and the right place for the country to be.”
We should expect more, especially because the senator remains one of our best and brightest. Blunt was just re-elected in 2016. He won’t face voters again for 5 1/2 years, if the 67-year-old runs again at all.
Make no mistake: He knows better. Blunt has long been one of the adults in the room in American politics. He’s steady, thoughtful — a deep student of history who often cites significant events in casual conversation. That his colleagues, both in the House and Senate, elected him to leadership suggests I’m not the only one who regards him as a man of substance.
He became the House chief deputy whip after only one term and eventually ascended to majority leader. In the Senate, he’s vice chair of the Senate Republican Conference and ranks as the dean of Missouri’s congressional delegation.
In a time of choosing, why won’t Blunt take on Trump? He can stand with the president or he can stand with many of his GOP Senate colleagues, such as John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona or Marco Rubio of Florida or Jerry Moran of Kansas, who have all challenged the president by name.
Maybe Blunt is skittish because Trump’s 19-point win in Missouri last year arguably pulled the senator across the finish line. In the months since, Blunt has proven to be a loyal solider, voting with Trump 96 percent of the time.
His staff said Blunt had been out of the country until Wednesday, but these days, that’s no excuse.
Five years ago, Blunt acted without hesitation in his unsuccessful bid to knock Akin out of the race. That joint statement came two days after Akin’s jaw-dropping remarks went viral.
Blunt knows the right thing to do. Students of history understand the import of moments like this.