Michael Cohen’s testimony before congress made clear the fundamental differences between Republicans and Democrats regarding Trump. The Democrats profess to be patriotic apostles of justice, eager to hold Trump accountable for his many crimes—in the hopes of winning the 2020 presidential election. Republicans focus on defending Trump by impeding efforts to investigate him and by attacking those who claim to have evidence of his misdeeds.
The Democrats obviously have excellent political reasons to go after Trump—they will presumably be running against him in 2020. The Republicans obviously have excellent political reasons to protect Trump. While he was not the star they wanted to hitch their wagons to, he now has the reins (to mix metaphors). As such, they are not overly concerned with his alleged crimes—except in terms of protecting him. But the question remains as to whether they should care.
The pragmatic and political answer is easy and obvious: they should only care about his alleged crimes to the degree that they impact their political success. As it stands, Trump’s guilt or innocence does not seem to matter politically. Those who loath him would not change their hearts even if Robert Mueller exonerated Trump. Trump claimed that he could shoot someone on the street and not lose voters and this still seems to hold. There are, perhaps, some voters who could be swayed; but the main battle will be over which party can best mobilize (or keep) their base either attacking or protecting Trump. Because of this, the alleged crimes might matter—but only in terms of political points.
It can, of course, be argued that if Trump were shown to be guilty of crimes, then the Republicans should care—if they believe in the rule of law. If Trump were found to have actively colluded with the Russians, then the Republicans should care about that—given the history of professed patriotism on the part of Republicans. However, arguments (other than political interest) can be advanced as to why the Republicans should not care about the alleged crimes.
Another easy and obvious argument, one advanced by Trump and his core protectors, is the one that contends he committed no crimes. If there are no crimes to care about, then there is no reason to care. Taking this approach does seem to require working up a sweat constantly moving the goal posts—see Rudy Giuliana’s mobile defense of Trump. After all, evidence seems to keep piling up for the alleged crimes.
It can also be argued that the crimes do not really matter at this time. Trump is already well into his term of office with the Mueller investigation still dragging on. At best, he might be impeached near the end of his term. To use an analogy, it would as if an investigation into me allegedly faking my doctorate ran until I was about to retire—kudos on catching me, but the damage would have already been done. But one might reply, that at least there would be no further damage and there could be penalties for the past misdeeds.
There is also the argument that whatever crimes Trump might have committed, things are going great for the country and hence they do not really matter. Clever defenders will point to how Democrats did not really care about the allegations against the Clintons and how they defended them by pointing to his successes. The ethics of this is that misdeeds do not matter, as long as things are otherwise going well. Or at least well for those that matter. This is a standard utilitarian approach and makes good sense—unless not caring ends up creating more harm than caring.
Going along with this argument is a similar utilitarian approach: even if Trump committed crimes, the Democrats are far worse, and Trump must be protected to protect America from the Democrats who want to destroy America with socialism. One obvious concern here is that Trump is not the only one who can “protect America”—if Trump is impeached, Pence takes over and the Republicans still hold the White House and Senate. Trump has, of course, taken the usual strong man approach of claiming that only he can do what must be done—at it seems that either the Republicans have bought into this delusion or they calculate that his being taken down would cost them too much power.
In closing, when considering whether the Republicans should care or not, it is worth doing a though experiment: imagine Hilary had won the election and was being investigated for an assortment of alleged crimes by the Republicans. Should Democrats of that alternative world care about her alleged crimes? If they should, the Republicans of the real world should care about Trump’s alleged crimes.