For a political neophyte, President Trump has done an excellent job of squelching all dissent against him within the Republican Party. The New York Times’s Jonathan Martin and Michael Tackett capture the current state of the GOP:
As Representative Mark Sanford of South Carolina found out the hard way, in his surprise primary defeat, having a conservative voting record is less important than demonstrating total loyalty to Mr. Trump, who now enjoys higher approval ratings in his own party than any modern president except George W. Bush following the attacks of Sept. 11. And in Virginia, a far-right candidate, Corey Stewart, won the Republican Senate nomination after waging an incendiary campaign and portraying himself as a disciple of Mr. Trump.
The president’s transformation of the G.O.P. — its policies, its tone, even the fate of its candidates — has never been so evident. A party that once championed free trade has now largely turned to protectionism under Mr. Trump. Sermons about inclusivity have been replaced with demagogic attacks on immigrants and black athletes. A trust-but-verify approach to foreign policy has given way to a seat-of-the-pants style in which rogue regimes like North Korea are elevated and democratic allies like Canada are belittled.
It’s not just smart journalists making this observation. It’s also sitting GOP senators, like Bob Corker, who angrily denounced his Republican colleagues for not challenging the president on his stupid, counterproductive tariffs. According to the Tennessean’s Michael Collins:
His voice occasionally rising, the Tennessee Republican said in a fiery speech on the Senate floor that Republicans are afraid to give his amendment a vote because they fear angering President Donald Trump.
“I can’t believe it!” said Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “I would bet that 95 percent of the people on this [Republican] side of the aisle support intellectually this amendment — I would bet higher than 95 percent — and a lot of them would vote for it if it came to a vote.”
“But no, no, no!” Corker continued. “Gosh, ‘we might poke the bear’ is the language I’ve been hearing in the hallways … ‘The president might get upset with us as United States senators if we vote on the Corker amendment, so we’re going to do everything we can to block it.’”
Corker conceded that his amendment won’t get a vote.
Don’t believe me? Here’s
General Hux GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel:
Congratulations to the president on his political victories. Of course, being the party boss also means that if anyone in the party misbehaves, it’s on the boss to rectify matters. And this brings us to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
A few months ago, the hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts concluded that Pruitt was Trump’s worst Cabinet member. His standing has only sunk since then. The Verge’s Alessandra Potenza ably summarized all of Scott Pruitt’s scandals that were known as of a few days ago:
First, it was the unnecessary $43,000 soundproof phone booth he got installed at his office. Then, it was the $50 a night condo deal tied to an energy lobbyist. Lately, however, the scandals have gotten more and more ridiculous — there are reports of Pruitt asking his staffers to scout for a Trump hotel mattress and Ritz-Carlton hotel moisturizing cream. What’s up with this man and his obsession with hotel stuff? It’s all very funny, until you realize your taxes are funding all these laughable extravaganzas — and these extravaganzas might function as a smokescreen for Pruitt’s threats to the environment.
As the editors of National Review put it, “a good week for Pruitt sees only one report of behavior that is bizarre or venal.” And this has not been a good week for Pruitt. The Washington Post has run two stories limited strictly to the subcategory of “Pruitt using the powers of his office to enrich his wife.” First, Pruitt used EPA resources to try to get his wife, Marlyn, a Chick-fil-A franchise. But that story is so last week. This week, we learned that Pruitt really wanted his wife to work outside the house:
Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt last year had a top aide help contact Republican donors who might offer his wife a job, eventually securing her a position at a conservative political group that has backed him for years, according to multiple individuals familiar with the matter.
The job hunt included Pruitt’s approaching wealthy party supporters and conservative figures with ties to the Trump administration. The individuals said he enlisted Samantha Dravis, then serving as associate administrator for the EPA’s Office of Policy, to line up work for his wife.
And when one donor, Doug Deason, said he could not hire Marlyn Pruitt because of a conflict of interest, Pruitt continued to solicit his help in trying to find other possibilities.
How much of an ethical embarrassment is Pruitt to conservatives right now? Pruitt has lost Fox News’s Laura Ingraham.
On her radio show Wednesday, she said Pruitt’s scandals were damaging the president and reflected the EPA chief’s repeated “judgment lapses.”
“He’s hurting the president because he has bad judgment after bad judgment after bad judgment,” she said. “It just doesn’t look good. If you want to drain the swamp, you got to have people in it who forgo personal benefits.”….
On Ingraham’s radio show, Pruitt ally Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) agreed that the continued revelations were troubling, and he said he would send a “communication” to EPA on Wednesday warning the embattled chief to cut it out. And he suggested that EPA Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former Inhofe aide, was well-qualified to run the agency, and could step in for Pruitt.
Pruitt serves at the pleasure of Trump. The president of the United States could end all of this by asking for Pruitt’s resignation. He forced out Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price for far fewer (though still corrupt) indiscretions.
Of course, since Trump is now the uncontested leader of the GOP, this decision is all on him. The data suggest that Trump will stick by his EPA administrator. Why? Earlier this week, the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman and Katie Rogers offered some useful insights on the president’s relationship with Pruitt:
Among the president’s other confidants is Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Trump has dismissed the advice of several aides who have tried to persuade him to fire Mr. Pruitt in light of the growing questions about misuse of his authority. The two speak frequently, and the president enjoys discussing his negative view of Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, with the embattled E.P.A. leader.
[Last] Friday, the president told reporters that Mr. Pruitt “is doing a great job within the walls of the E.P.A.,” but that “outside, he’s being attacked very viciously by the press.”
Trump will brook no dissent from within the Republican Party. That’s not an unusual quality among GOP presidents. But it also means that all the scandals that emerge from his administration are on him and him alone. Instead, Trump glories in keeping Pruitt close. This is about as far from draining the swamp as is humanly possible.
Trump could demonstrate his leadership by forcing Pruitt out. It appears that he will not do that. He is a man who wants all of the trappings and fealty of leadership with none of the responsibility. That is not how leadership works.