Rep. Mark Sanford lost his primary. Rep. Martha Roby is in a runoff. Sen. Jeff Flake is retiring. It’s a tough and lonely world out there for congressional Republicans who are critical of Trump. The right punishes them and the left doesn’t give them an ounce of credit. The only lesson to take away from it all is that it’s better to say nothing at all.
Take Flake. Last weekend, he tweeted the following in response to a Trump adviser wishing the Canadian Prime Minister a special spot in hell: “Fellow Republicans, this is not who we are. This cannot be our party.”
The overwhelming reaction from the left was ‘what are you going to do about it?’ or sarcastically ‘if only you were in a position to do something.’
What more do they want?
A staunchly conservative member isn’t going to switch parties nor would the Democrats welcome the pro-life right-wingers if they did. Wishing that Flake would hand control of the Senate agenda over to Chuck Schumer is a harsh demand for the guy who is saying the things you admonish other Republicans for not saying. Demanding that he, say, put a stop to the president’s tax cuts as a means of sending a ‘message’ is an unreasonable request as well. One shouldn’t have to abandon principle or ideology in the course of leveling criticisms.
Republicans members shouldn’t be expected to give up their support of the conservative agenda, despite the wishful thinking of Democratic elites. And though President Trump knows only as much about it as Fox & Friends lets him, his agenda is still conservative — co-opted from the Republican playbook to a large degree and not the other way around.
Many Democrats don’t actually want Republicans to speak out against Trump, but instead for them to oppose conservative nominees for the courts. But those are the very type of Federalist Society justices that they have supported their entire career. It’s an absurd expectation.
Some Democrats want nominees to be blocked in order to gain concessions from Trump. But what concessions exactly would stop Trump’s erratic behavior? Any legislative demands these lawmakers would make would be philosophically conservative—and hardly in the Democratic Party’s interest. The reduction of executive powers embraced and expanded under Barack Obama would be a smart and welcomed place to start. But that also is unlikely to get enough support.
Perhaps Democrats want Republicans like Jeff Flake to challenge Trump in 2020—a proposition that Flake seems to be entertaining as well. It would be quixotic crusade. Let’s not forget he’s retiring because the primary in his own state is hostile to his principled outspokenness.
Some have even suggested that Republican chairmen subpoena Trump’s financial records to investigate potential malfeasance. This would definitely be an act of defiance. But what would it actually achieve? The answer is very little as that battle moved into the courts and isolated said chairman from colleagues eager to distance themselves from the carnage. If Democrats feel strongly that the Senate should do this, they themselves could make a campaign promise to do so after the election, just as they could raise impeachment. But they don’t because it’s political unfeasible.
The bottom line is that liberal Trump opponents seemingly want Republican opponents to feel some pain for being a part of the same party. Their warm appeals to speak out against him are the carrot and career suicide is the stick.
There is absolutely no incentive from the right to speak out.
A frustrated member of Congress could stand up and say: “I’m pro-life. I have a perfect record of defending the 2nd Amendment. I believe in small government, low taxes, low spending, a strong military and entitlement reform. I believe states are in a better position to govern than Washington. I have a tattoo of Ronald Reagan directly over my damn heart. And I think Donald Trump is a reckless demagogue who does not understand conservatism and acts beneath the dignity of his office.”
Which part of that speech will Republican primary voters care about? We know the answer.
Roby’s heresy in 2016 was saying: “I cannot look my children in the eye and justify a vote for a man who promotes and boasts about sexually assaulting women." Sanford was labeled a Never Trumper in South Carolina for staking a moral position to the right of Trump.
It’s easy to see why more Republicans don’t accept Democratic offers to criticize the president. There is no upside. No reward. It’s lonely to march in a parade when there is nobody behind you, and the Democrats are on the sidelines scolding you for not doing their work for them.
If you’re the type of Republican who is embarrassed by this White House, win your election. We need you in office. We need you to outlast this president. Otherwise the party will be surrendered to the sycophants and the cult of personality. But that doesn’t mean becoming a sycophant yourself. Vote your conscience in areas such as trade and executive power even if it deviates from president. Protect our institutional norms and conduct responsible oversight over an irresponsible executive.
And if you do want to risk it all and speak your mind, please do so. I’ll thank you even if your voters and Democrats won’t.