A liberal Democratic friend expressed amazement today that, in light of the Russia scandal and President Trump’s general ineptness, more Republicans haven’t washed their hands of him. There’s no one reason for their reluctance to break free — increasing tribal loyalty, unrealistic hope he could still help them get tax or health-care reform and just plain spinelessness (including fear of the talk-radio mob) all play a part.
Nevertheless, given the results in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, where the GOP winner, Karen Handel, couldn’t get far enough away from Trump and didn’t utter his name in her acceptance speech, the number of not-all-that-thrilled-with-Trump Republicans may grow.
There is some of that happening already as Republicans such as Sen. James Lankford (Okla.) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) call for him to release his taxes. Likewise, Sen. Joni Ernst (Iowa) recently suggested he spend less time in Florida and told a town hall, “I think that we have a president that has a number of flaws. I support a majority of the policies, versus the actual person, but I decry any time a person is ugly towards another person, I don’t think that’s appropriate.”
Republicans still spinning for Trump and supporting unpopular positions (e.g., building a wall, carrying out mass deportations, cozying up to dictators) don’t have as much to fear as they might suspect. The most recent Pew Research Center poll was illuminating. It found that 55 percent of Republicans say GOP members of Congress have no obligation to go along with Trump when they disagree with him:
About four-in-ten Republicans and Republican leaners (43%) say that Republicans in Congress have an obligation to support Donald Trump’s politics and programs because he is a Republican president, while a narrow majority (55%) say they do not have such an obligation if they disagree with him.
Conservative Republicans are roughly evenly divided on this question. However, by roughly two-to-one (66% vs. 32%), more moderate and liberal Republicans say GOP members of Congress do not have an obligation to back Trump if they disagree with him.
Younger Republicans are more likely than older Republicans to say congressional Republicans do not have an obligation to back the president: Just 31% of Republicans and Republican leaners younger than 50 say there is an obligation to back Trump because he is a GOP president. By contrast, 49% of Republicans 50-64 say this, along with fully 61% of Republicans 65 and older.
Voters, in other words, may give their representatives more latitude to resist Trump than the GOP members think they have. If Republicans are more understanding of their representatives’ anti-Trump heresies, GOP lawmakers should not worry about, for example, demanding he release his tax returns, refusing to carry his spin on the Russia scandal, voting against a health-care bill only 17 percent of voters favor, opposing draconian budget cuts, and calling on him and his children to end conflicts of interest by divesting themselves of business concerns. If they did, Republicans would be on the side of public opinion, take away some Democratic attack ads and recover a little self-respect after selling their political souls to a charlatan.
But, you say, in the election the GOP senators who ran the furthest from him — Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Mark Kirk (Ill.) — lost. That’s true, but their anti-Trump stance probably did not hurt them. (Remember Hillary Clinton won both states.) Moreover, after about 90 days in office, Trump is a lot more unpopular than he was during the election. It may well be that in a month or year, he’ll be a veritable Typhoid Donald.
In short, Republican lawmakers should start showing some independence unless they think Trump is going to become an asset to them in 2018. (Anyone think he’ll accomplish more in his second 100 days than in the first?) If they think his scandals, incompetence and extremism are problems, they should speak up.