The idea that Republicans are suddenly going to run kamikaze missions in the name of holding Trump accountable is fanciful. Politics is a business that selects for self-preservation, first and foremost. Any given thing could ruin a career, and those who rise to the top are generally both the most worried about protecting themselves and the best at it. Most everyone now just accepts this as reality and doesn't expect Republicans to truly revolt over anything short of video showing Trump telling Putin which Democratic groups to hack.
But some hopeful souls have settled upon a new Way To Stop Trump — and it's a way that requires just one brave Republican.
Because the GOP saw its Senate majority halved in the Alabama special election and because Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is battling brain cancer, the Senate effectively has a 50-to-49 GOP majority. And that means it takes only one GOP senator — theoretically — to reverse the majority and basically hold Trump's agenda hostage.
Former Obama White House press secretary Dan Pfeiffer threw out vocal Trump critics Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) as the ones who could make the stand by refusing to vote for Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett M. Kavanaugh. Were just one of them to summon the courage, Pfeiffer reasons, they could secure concessions up to and including a vote on a bill to protect special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, implement more Russia sanctions or — in a particularly novel idea — subpoena the interpreter who was in Trump and Putin's private meeting.
The Atlantic's James Fallows, who, like many Democrats, is frustrated with the likes of Sasse and Flake denouncing Trump but not using their full leverage against him, laid out his own, similar proposal.
I'll qualify by saying I've often said this idea is dumb. Democrats have suggested that these members could vote against things such as the GOP's tax cuts bill as a means to protest Trump. But these are conservatives who are voting for conservative legislation. This has been their chance, with GOP control of both chambers of Congress, to actually pass the things they spent years and even decades in Congress hoping to accomplish. They won't just throw that away on a whim, no matter how many moral compromises they need to make in the meantime. And it's not difficult to see how they can justify every last bit of it to themselves.
It's one thing to expect them to do that over Trump saying something off-color or destroying a few political norms; it's another when these same members of Congress are warning about Trump committing something shy of a treasonous act — of selling out to America's enemies. And the fact is that one of them could have the leverage, if they truly wanted to sacrifice themselves, to hold Kavanaugh or anything else hostage.
There actually is some precedent for this — albeit on a much smaller scale. In April, Flake held hostage a vote on Jim Bridenstine's nomination to be NASA administrator over an unrelated matter: his desire to get an audience with Mike Pompeo, then the CIA director, to discuss Cuba. Eventually, the standoff was resolved.
At the same time, there are myriad reasons this won't happen.
The first is that this approach would carry no assurances of success. If just one Democrat, such as Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) or Joe Donnelly (Ind.), were to cross over on Kavanaugh, the blockade would be rendered meaningless. It might be easier for Democrats to unite against Kavanaugh if they have a Republican on their side, but that wouldn't be easy for the likes of Manchin, Donnelly, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) or any number of other red-state Democrats who face reelection to do.
The second is that, even if it does succeed in blocking things, the endgame is far from certain. Trump is a proud man who doesn't often back down and wouldn't like having his Supreme Court pick held hostage. It's an open question as to how much he actually cares about tilting the Supreme Court conservative. Yes, it would be a key part of his legacy, but it's something other Republicans probably want more than he does. If this is a standoff, Trump seems to be unlikely to blink first, knowing how much Republicans want the thing they'd be blocking. (And that goes double if he's truly afraid of what Mueller might produce.)
And third is the member's own legacy. Republicans have a finite amount of time to confirm the new justice before they potentially lose their majority in the November election. Whoever would make the decision to take a stand would have to be willing to be the Republican who maybe prevented conservatives from getting a 5-to-4 Supreme Court majority, because there's a possibility that would be the outcome — however unlikely. That's not exactly how any Republican wants to be remembered.
If one or two GOP senators truly feel strongly and are willing to go there, the option is available. Nobody should hold their breath.