It is not really accurate to say that the White House responded on Tuesday to the harsh criticisms leveled against President Trump by retiring Republican Sens. Bob Corker (Tenn.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.). During an afternoon media briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn't even attempt to engage with the substance of what either man said.
Instead, she offered a retort that can be summarized like this: Trump is a winner. Corker and Flake are losers.
Witness this exchange between Sanders and Politico's Matthew Nussbaum:
NUSSBAUM: So, we have two Republican senators, just now, today — so there's Corker and Flake — calling the president's behavior “unacceptable” and “dangerous,” saying that he regularly tells untruths. Senator Flake just called on his fellow Republicans to end what he called “complicity and accommodation.” I'm wondering: What's the White House's response to this criticism coming from two Republican senators?
SANDERS: I think that we support the American people on this one. I think that the people, both in Tennessee and Arizona, supported this president, and I don't think the numbers are in the favor of either of those two senators in their states.
Notice that Sanders didn't bother to defend Trump's conduct. She didn't say that it is acceptable or that it is not dangerous. All she said was that Trump won Tennessee and Arizona last fall, while suggesting that Corker and Flake would have lost in 2018 had they not decided to retire.
Sanders did the same thing a few minutes later, when questioned by ABC's Jonathan Karl:
KARL: I understand that neither of these two senators we're talking about now have been allies, to say the least, of the president. But this has been an extraordinary series of attacks on the president, from major figures in the Republican Party — not typical political attacks. I mean, saying the president is responsible for the debasement of the nation, that a breakdown of civility is the fault of the president and that enough is enough. We've seen similar remarks from John McCain, the party's former nominee. In any of this — does any of this make the president pause and wonder if he is doing anything wrong, if he bears any responsibility for what these senators are saying is a breakdown of civility in our country.
SANDERS: Look, I think the voters' of these individual senators' states are speaking in pretty loud volumes. I think that they were not likely to be reelected, and I think that shows that the support is more behind this president than it is behind those two individuals.
Again, Sanders didn't argue against the charge that Trump has debased the nation and damaged civic discourse. She simply asserted that voters in Tennessee and Arizona like Trump better than Corker and Flake.
Sanders has a point. Flake told the Arizona Republic that to be reelected, he would essentially have to act more like Trump than himself:
Here's the bottom line: The path that I would have to travel to get the Republican nomination is a path I'm not willing to take, and that I can't in good conscience take. It would require me to believe in positions I don't hold on such issues as trade and immigration, and it would require me to condone behavior that I cannot condone.
There you have it. Flake, for one, agrees with the White House. In this political environment, Trump's way is the way to win.
The winning way is not necessarily the same as the right way — Flake clearly believes it is not — but the clear message from Sanders on Tuesday was that winning is all that matters in Trump's White House.
Just ask Breitbart.