That’s the word Wisconsin’s U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson used to describe Robert Mueller’s testimony before Congress in late July.

“My human reaction is just … it was sad,” Johnson, who was touring ABS Global in DeForest, said of the Mueller hearings. “You know, age takes a toll on all of us.”

I’ll tell you what’s really sad. It’s Johnson skirting the content of the Mueller report to focus on a completely unrelated topic of whether the former FBI director is slowing down in his old age.

Sadly, Johnson has marched lock-step with his fellow Republicans in providing whatever cover they can for a president who not only knows no decency, but has surrounded himself with what many historians are calling the most corrupt administration in the nation’s history.

Johnson has insinuated on several occasions that he believes Russia didn’t help Trump during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The Mueller report — and his testimony before Congress — declared otherwise and underscored that Trump was not exonerated from any wrongdoing. Yet, Wisconsin’s senior senator preferred to ignore that, apparently too distracted by Mueller’s difficulty to hear some of the questions and stumbling over some words, stereotyping the 74-year-old as some bumbling senior citizen.

Nor has he weighed in on Mueller’s urgent warning that, not only did Russia interfere in 2016 — it’s actively working to do the same in 2020 unless Congress acts, and acts now. This is the chair of the Senate’s committee on homeland security.

Now that’s truly sad.

Johnson has been on Trump’s side on virtually every issue since he was elected president. It doesn’t matter if it’s tariffs that wind up hurting Wisconsin farmers, immigration policies that take away kids from their parents, a huge tax cut for big corporations and CEOs that promises to add trillions to the national debt or questioning whether we should really be worried about climate change — Ron Johnson is there for his man.

It was shortly after Trump was elected that the Wisconsin senator appeared at a Madison Area Builders Association conference and announced that he would only support the Trump tax plan if it was pro-growth and wouldn’t increase the national debt. A few months later, of course, Johnson forgot that pledge and joined with his Republican colleagues to pass a bill that was completely contrary to what they historically stood for.

At the time, Urban Milwaukee’s Bruce Murphy pointed out that Johnson had made the national debt his number one issue, campaigning with charts to demonstrate how deficit spending was to bring about the demise of America. Remember the PowerPoint slides he appeared with to paint the incumbent Russ Feingold as a reckless spender, willing to pass on big deficits to our children and grandchildren?

Then when he was elected, Murphy added, he became Washington’s number one deficit scold.

“Over and over he vilified Barack Obama for the president’s lack of leadership on the issue,” he wrote.

He tore into the Affordable Care Act, claiming that it alone would bankrupt the country and this was the real reason Republicans needed to do everything they could to repeal it.

Somehow, when you can give a trillion-and-a-half dollar tax cut to pad corporations’ bottom lines and further the income gap between the nation’s wealthy and poor, balancing a budget doesn’t mean much anymore. It meant a lot, though, to politicians like Johnson when Barack Obama was struggling to right the nation’s economy.

Wisconsin was once known for the independence of its members of Congress when they challenged even their own party’s leadership.

Ron Johnson can’t move himself beyond the rigid lines of partisanship.

And that’s what’s truly sad.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. He can be reached by email at dzweifel@madison.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.

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