Since the special elections and the firing of FBI Director James B. Comey, conventional wisdom has held that there will be no internal reckoning within the GOP unless and until the 2018 midterms. Look how docile Republican leaders are! See how Republicans in polls are sticking with him?
Perhaps the split already is underway. Consider four events: 1.) The Senate by a 98-2 vote passes Russia sanctions the White House did not want and, to boot, puts limits on executive discretion to waive them; 2.) Senate conservatives and moderates, in a pincer movement, halt Trumpcare. The president’s notion that it does not cut Medicaid is wildly repudiated by senators from Medicaid expansion states. (The emperor has no clothes; the bill does not have enough support); 3.) A significant number of GOP senators and congressmen condemn the president’s vulgar tweets directed at Mika Brzezinski; and 4.) Moderate House members now threaten to derail the budget (without which there can be no budget reconciliation).
As to the last of these, Politico reports:
Tuesday Group co-chairman Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) is gathering signatures on a letter asking Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to intervene in House Budget Chairwoman Diane Black’s plan to cut $200 billion in mandatory spending in the GOP budget.The Tuesday Group letter — which sources say has about 20 signatories so far — warns that the Tennessee Republican’s proposal is “not practical” and “could imperil tax reform,” according to a draft of the letter obtained by POLITICO. The letter also encourages GOP leaders to work with Democrats to reach a budget agreement setting higher spending levels for fiscal 2018 — something the letter suggests could be paired with a vote to raise the debt ceiling. This comes on top of near universal rejection of the president’s budget which chopped away large sections of the government and largely eviscerated soft power resources (State Department and foreign aid).
Taken together, there does seem to be the spirit of defiance rolling through the GOP ranks. We are five months into this presidency, and factions have already formed in both houses — the disagreement being in which direction (hard-right or center-right) they will pull the party. Both, however, are in revolt against the Trump agenda — a peculiar mix of xenophobia, pro-Russian genuflecting, reverse Robin Hood economics and contempt for government.
To be sure, some of the unrest is process-oriented. For reasons that still escape me, the White House and the House speaker thought they could force-feed prebaked agenda items to their troops, who would dutifully swallow hard and follow direction. Many have not.
However, a good deal of the uprising has to do with substance, and here we see the general outline of the post-Trump struggle that will unfold. Emboldened by one act of defiance, lawmakers feel more comfortable doing it a second and third time. There is no benefit of the doubt extended to the White House.
On one side stand the ossified conservatives, who espouse an anti-government animus that has little resonance with an electorate demanding more, not less, from government. They embrace the know-nothingism of populism but plant their flag on the far-right wing of the party on everything from discrimination against gays to climate-change denial to anti-immigrant hysteria. On the other side stand, in both the House and Senate (and importantly, the governorships), the so-called moderates, some of whom are actually quite conservative but nevertheless reject both Trump and the zombie conservatism from the 1980s. As we’ve discussed, these are not split-the-difference compromisers. They have strong views on immigration (pro), the safety net (they want one), climate change (they believe in it), globalization (it’s here to stay) and Russia (against).
In a sense, then, Trump has already lost control of the party. For now, this takes the form of factional warfare and paralysis, but few can look at the past few weeks and say Trump has a grip on the rank and file. He cannot keep Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) from investigating the Russia scandal or Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) from calling foul on Medicaid cuts or Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) from devising harsh anti-Russia sanctions.
More and more, lawmakers are choosing to shake their heads in disbelief at Trump’s willful ignorance — and then ignore him. We hope this is a trend that builds, not a momentary spasm. Rebels should be encouraged and respected, even when their specific policy preferences strike us as off-base. The country needs two sane parties, both working against an unfit president.