Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled the name of Sen. Joni Ernst. This version has been corrected. 1:40 p.m.
The continued, abject weakness of the Republican Party in the face of President Trump’s rhetorical outrages and policy blunders will be the downfall of Republicans on the ballot in 2020, just as it was for so many Republicans outside deep red states in 2018.
Take Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), a bright and well-liked freshman, who will be up for reelection in two years. Despite her authoritative voice as a veteran, she cannot bring herself to criticize Trump for his blatant misuse of the military. Her “Face the Nation” interview was painful to watch as she tried to avoid getting crosswise with the president:
MARGARET BRENNAN: You’re a vet. Is deploying 6,000 troops to the border a good use of resources?
SEN. ERNST: Well I- again, up to the president and of course those governors that are involved if they’re National Guard soldiers.
BRENNAN: You’re on Armed Services, you have a voice.
ERNST: If they are active duty soldiers it does actually provide them an opportunity for real life training in their roles. Many of them, if they serve in logistics type positions they will actually be doing those missions on the border. So it is a very good skill. As someone who has commanded troops both in peacetime and in wartime to make sure that they keep their skills sharp. And so when they do deploy, they are in harm’s way overseas. They know exactly how to support the- the men and women on the frontlines.
BRENNAN: That’s how you see- I know General Mattis said- Secretary Mattis has said they won’t even have any contact with people coming across.
ERNST: Exactly, but they will be utilized in the roles. Like I said many of them may be logistics professionals serving in our armed services. And then it gives them greater opportunity to respond quickly in those types of situations, whether they are supporting with food or body armor, whatever it might be for Border Patrol agents. It allows those Border Patrol agents to actually focus on the law enforcement duties.
So what training are they actually getting, and is this more valuable than their actual, official training. You cannot help but think how justifiably outraged the late senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) would be about a president using troops as props. But Ernst is no maverick.
She was no more courageous on the GOP’s problem with women:
BRENNAN: You don’t think the president’s rhetoric or what happened during the 2016 election is turning away women from the party overall–
BRENNAN: –voters or candidates?
ERNST: I think that we could do a better job of communicating clearly that we support women and that’s something that I try and do. I try and set a very strong example for women that want to run for office, women that wish to serve in the military. Whatever it might be, we need to set a good example. Women primarily, men secondarily, we need to step up and make sure that we are supporting the needs of our constituents.
Just weak. Pathetically weak.
She isn’t even able to defend her state’s economic interests:
BRENNAN: I want to ask you about something that really impacts your home state. The vice president said today- and he’s in Asia, that the U.S. is not in a rush to end this trade dispute with China, suggesting that things might not get resolved when President Xi and Trump sit down in just a few weeks. There was a $12 billion bailout for farmers, to help alleviate some of this pain. Will you need another one?
ERNST: I am hopeful that we will not need another subsidy program for our farmers. Our farmers would much rather grow their goods and make sure that they are getting out to the rest of the world. Absolutely. But I’ve done a number of farmer roundtables all across the state of Iowa and at the last one I held, the very last speaker, a- a middle aged farmer, he-he stood up and said I understand why President Trump is doing this; however, what I don’t understand is why someone didn’t do it sooner. So they understand–
BRENNAN: The pain is tolerable for now?
ERNST: The pain is tolerable for now. I want to see these trade deals done. I’d rather see them done sooner, rather than later, but we have to get a good deal with China or it’s all for naught.
Why should her state endure any pain as a result of Trump’s misguided policies?
Ernst may have missed the lesson of the 2018 midterms. Democratic pollster Stanley B. Greenberg points out that the danger to Republicans is greater than simply loss of college-educated women in the suburbs of big cities. He explains:
Democrats did not win simply because white women with college degrees rebelled against Mr. Trump’s misogyny, sexism and disrespect for women. Nearly every category of women rebelled . . . Democrats got their wave in part because a significant portion of male and female white working class voters abandoned Mr. Trump and his Republican allies . . .
Working people are not fools, and Mr. Trump promised them a Republican president who would never cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid; who would repeal Obamacare but provide “insurance for everybody”; who would get rid of bad trade deals and “drain the swamp,” as he never tired of saying. Instead, had Mr. Trump’s effort to replace Obamacare passed, it would have imposed vast cuts in retirement programs and driven up health insurance costs. His tax reforms were heavily weighted to large corporations and the top 1 percent. So it is no surprise that more than half of white working class men now believe that Mr. Trump is “self-dealing” and corrupt.
If she doesn’t want to listen to a Democratic pollster, maybe she should pay attention to Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who saw a Democrat win the race to fill his seat. “We’re losing the suburb,” he warned. “If we had a mass movement from the suburbs for people to move back to rural areas, then perhaps our Republican Party would have more of a future, but not the way that we’re going now.”
Unless Ernst can figure this out and start putting distance between herself and the toxic president, she’ll be a sitting duck in 2020. The junior senator from Iowa who once made a splash with her castrating pigs ad vowing to fight corruption once in office never called for a full investigation of conflicts of interest, foreign emoluments or any issue touching on corruption now endemic in the administration. She appears to be just another Trump enabler.
Some savvy Republican(s) might mount a primary challenge, offering himself or herself as an independent conservative who’ll put fighting corruption and the interests of Iowa first — and stop dancing around hard issues because truth-telling might upset Trump. If Republicans don’t come up with an independent-minded candidate willing to stand up to Trump when needed, Democrats should put Iowa high on the list of winnable Senate seats for 2020.
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