“This is more of, like, a People magazine saga,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told Fox News on Wednesday morning, after Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) joined Corker in his criticism of Trump, “and it really ought to be more about policy and what is the best way to lead the country.”
“If we were all to chase every squirrel that comes running along in the form of a personal dispute or a mischaracterization of someone's integrity or intent, we would be very busy doing that and not focusing on the government,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) told MSNBC's “Morning Joe” on Wednesday.
“These things are all personality-driven, and it's unfortunate that this leaked out over into the public,” Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho) told CNN.
Nothing to see here, you see. This is all petty, personal feuding. This is just people getting upset over tweets and slights.
Except that it's not at all. And to pretend it is just personal is disingenuous at best and dangerous at worst — for the party and, some would argue, the country.
Whatever you think about what Corker and Flake are saying, their grievances aren't about personalities or petty quibbles. They are making arguments that Trump isn't just a bad person with huge character defects, but rather that he is a threat to the country. They are using words like “World War III” and “reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior.” They say normalizing Trump is a threat to our body politic. Flake suggests that anyone who doesn't speak out now is “complicit.”
It's understandable why Corker and Flake's fellow Republicans are doing this. They want to continue working with Trump and their majorities, and declaring these feuds to be petty and personal is the best way not to have to go into detail about them. But if you are Corker or Flake, you have to be disheartened that your colleagues are basically treating you like a drama queen airing your personal laundry on TV for no good reason. Inherent in that criticism is the idea that their concerns are irrelevant or at least overstated; there are no two ways about that.
But ignoring that very real and very full-throated concern about Trump's long-term effects on the country and the party is a very big risk for these Republicans. Nine months into his presidency, they have apparently decided that they are committed to making this work. Whatever concerns they have about Trump's conduct, they have apparently convinced themselves that it's window dressing on the way to tax reform.
If there was any indication that the GOP is not about to launch a full-scale revolt against Trump, it's comments like those by Ryan, Lee and the others. But in downplaying the concerns of Corker and Flake, Republicans are actually making a very big decision with potentially lasting implications for their party. Corker and Flake tried to get their colleagues to pick sides, and they have apparently picked Trump's.