Everyone’s talking about the civil war in the Republican Party. It seems more like a surrender to us. The great bulk of elected Republicans have surrendered to the forces of Donald J. Trump. And they didn’t even put up much of a fight. Has a hostile takeover of a historic institution ever been accomplished with less resistance? The flag of surrender went up before many blows were even landed.
.. What I find so shocking is not so much the capitulation but the terms of the surrender. Or, rather, I should say the term — singular — of surrender, because there seems to be only one requirement expected of Republicans: Lavish praise on Donald Trump no matter what he does or says. Or at the very least, never, ever criticize him. Policy is an afterthought.
.. A reporter for Politico recently asked John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, for his views on a potential bipartisan compromise extending cost-sharing payments under Obamacare. “I’m with the president,” Cornyn told Seung Min Kim. When she asked him where, exactly, Trump is on the plan, Cornyn threw his hands in the air. So Cornyn doesn’t know what Trump’s position is — but he knows that he shares it.
.. The Trump agenda begins and ends with personal loyalty to Trump — not to the Trump agenda, but to the Trump personality.
.. Sasse likes to point out he is the third most conservative senator by voting record. I’m not sure how he reached that figure, but it seems plausible given that the American Conservative Union gave him a 100 percent conservative score in both 2015 and in 2016.
..But, remember, Sasse is the RINO squish traitor.
..Ah, quoth the Bannonite mobs, but he’s thwarting Trump’s agenda! Conservatism is a dead creed. What matters now is the new nationalism and supporting our president’s pursuit of coveted wins. Nothing else matters. Well, according to FiveThirtyEight, Sasse has voted with Trump 90.2 percent of the time. He supported the Graham-Cassidy health-care bill, admittedly with reservations. But if Sasse had his way, the president would have had more than one big win by now.
.. Losing a seat to the Democrats is worse for the pro-life cause than appeasing the Trump White House — or at least a reasonable person could come to that conclusion.
.. They also talk about wanting to get things done and the importance of fulfilling the Trump “agenda.” But they reserve their purest passion and most sustained vitriol not for people who don’t vote with Trump, but for people who do vote with Trump but who also refuse to remain silent.
.. Why? Well, in the president’s case, the answer is obvious: his own Brobdingnagian yet astoundingly fragile ego. Because Trump cares so little about policy, he can forgive policy differences quite easily. What he can’t forgive is anyone even hinting that the emperor’s new clothes are, at best, invisible to the naked eye.
.. I’ll give Steve Bannon credit. He understood this from the get-go. He understood that criticizing Trump for the Access Hollywood tape was the kind of disloyalty Trump cares about. But criticizing a tax-reform proposal? He won’t care, at least not if it’s couched in compliments.
.. The Breitbart folks are quick to point out that they criticized Trump when he seemed to be capitulating on DACA — “Amnesty Don” and all that. This was at Bannon’s direction of course. But Bannon & Co. never, ever criticize the man himself. When Trump is doing wrong, it’s because the “Globalists” or the “Establishment” are giving the king bad information and whispering treason in his ear.
.. THE NEW SNOWFLAKE CAUCUS
It really is amazing. The people most likely to mock “snowflakes” and ask if you’ve been “triggered” have the most Pavlovian responses to criticism of Trump. They can’t seem to handle hearing anyone pointing out Trump’s personal, ideological, political, or managerial failings.
.. Ted Cruz is right that the Republicans have work to do. But who has taken his eye off the ball more than anyone else in Washington? Hint: It’s not Jeff Flake, it’s not Bob Corker, and it’s not Ben Sasse. It’s most emphatically not Mitch McConnell, who gave Trump his biggest win — Justice Gorsuch — and who is doing yeoman’s work to get conservatives on the lower courts.
.. It’s the guy who’d rather fight Gold Star families and rant about the NFL. It’s the guy who talks about revoking licenses for the press and talks about Confederate generals as “our heritage.” But just as there’s no reasoning with Dad when he gets into the Dewar’s, there’s no talking Trump out of his Twitter when he gets into one of his “moods.”
.. the culture-war spats and nasty personal fights are to a very real extent Trump’s true agenda, or at least it’s what people who love the Trump Show love about the Trump Show.
.. “But he fights!” can be a principle for everyone — for people without principles and also for those of us who have them.
The president’s base is rooted in a cult of personality, not support for the Republican party or conservatism.
.. it also demonstrated his complete indifference to Republican objectives, since it set up another confrontation with the Democrats at the end of the year over the debt ceiling and likely made it much harder to pass a tax-reform package.
.. While Trump’s overall popularity continues to fall, the people who turn out to cheer him at rallies and who were responsible for his routing of his Republican rivals in the 2016 primaries aren’t going to abandon him because he stabbed McConnell and Ryan in the back. The Trump movement, to the extent that one can dignify it with that term, was never about any ideology, let alone conservatism.
.. he is the object of a cult of personality, not the leader of a political party.
.. But despite his vocal disappointment about the failure to pass an Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill this summer, Trump was largely AWOL during the battle for votes, avoiding the normal give and take with members of the House and Senate that might have secured his objective. Since then he has publicly feuded with McConnell and made it clear that he blames everyone but himself for this failure.
.. If Trump was willing to give the Democrats everything they wanted, it’s not because, as some conservatives have always suspected, he’s a closet liberal. It’s because he’s in business for himself. Trump wants to be seen getting things done, so, if a three-month debt-ceiling deal will prevent partisan squabbling from interfering with hurricane relief, he’ll do it, even if it strengthens the Democrats’ ability to thwart tax reform, budget cuts, or even funding for the border wall he wants to build.
In theory, that ought to make your average Trump voter as mad at the president as Mitch McConnell is. But it won’t.
.. Trump’s base despises GOP congressional leaders, in some cases more than they do the Democrats.
.. Indeed, with a sidelined Hillary Clinton no longer available as a target of their vituperation, the desire of Trump’s fans to “lock up” their idol’s foes now seems to be focused solely on Republicans.
That the irony of calling a war hero like McCain a traitor is completely lost on Trump backers tells you all you need to know about their blind loyalty to the president and complete indifference to anything other than his interests.
.. Trump’s media cheerleaders, such as Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs. He reacted to Trump’s embrace of the Democrats as being praiseworthy precisely because it cut Speaker Ryan off at the knees. He seems to think anything that undermines GOP leaders is a triumph for Trump, no matter what it means in terms of legislation.
.. The base’s trust in Trump isn’t predicated on a belief that he will be more skillful at advancing conservative issues; it’s rooted in their desire to burn the system down and replace it with one led by someone who is not merely untainted by past failures but also unencumbered by adherence to the traditional values that the political class cherishes.
.. Nor will a possible betrayal on immigration — the one issue that seems to really motivate the Trump base — damage him. If Congress doesn’t pass a solution to the DACA issue that will give legal status to illegal aliens brought here as children, Trump has already threatened to act on his own as Obama did. Or he might again cut a deal with Democrats on the issue — to exchange something his base would call amnesty if it were proposed by anyone else