Recently Trump’s sparring with the establishment wing of the Republican Party has degenerated into an all out war and his attacks on leaders of his own party have prompted several prominent Republicans to respond in kind. Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Jeff Flake, Ohio Gov. John Kasich have been very vocal in their criticism of Trump. George W. Bush who has stayed out of the political fray since leaving the White House, not even criticizing his democratic successor Barrack Obama, recently gave a speech denouncing fabrication, bigotry, bullying, nativism, and conspiracy theories in our politics. He didn’t mention Trump by name, but there was no doubt who he was talking about. However, except for Jeff Flake, what all of these Republican leaders have one thing in common. They feel that they are in politically safe situations or they are not running for reelection anytime soon.
This morning I was watching CNN when reporter Manu Raju interviewed Senator Bob Corker, Chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the hallways of the Capital Building. I was treated to probably the most provocative and frank appraisal of Donald Trump I have heard expressed by a Republican politician. Corker held nothing back. He said that Trump has “great difficulty with the truth”. Corker, a big supporter of Trump before the election, also said that he and others in Congress have tried on multiple occasion to intervene and coach Trump “if you will, to the way that he conducts himself”, but to no avail. When asked if Trump is a good role model for children, Corker responded. “No, absolutely not!” When Corker was asked if he would support Trump if he runs again the Senator replied, “No, no way!”
Bob Corker finished the interview by saying, “I think the things that are happening right now that are harmful to our nation, whether it’s the breaking down of — we are going to be doing hearings on some of the things that he purposely is breaking down — relationships we have around the world that have been useful to our nation. But I think at the end of the day, when his term is over, I think the debasing of our nation, the constant non-truth telling, just the name-calling … I think the debasement of our nation will be what he’ll be remembered most for, and that’s regretful.” When Trump, predictably, turned immediately to twitter to call out his latest detractor, “the incompetent head of the foreign relations committee.” the Senator was quoted as saying, “everybody sees through Trump’s bullying.”
What should be alarming to the Trump White House is that Bob Corkers, who has announced that he will not seeking reelection to his Senate seat from Tennessee, has stated several times that his opinion of Trump is shared by most of his Senate and House colleagues. This squares with what reporters who cover Congress have reported many times. Those reporters have stated repeatedly that Senators and Representatives have confided in them off of the record that they have been disturbed by Trumps egregious behavior and his lack of knowledge and assistance on legislative matters . There is little doubt they would prefer having another Republican president in the White House. However, most of them are apparently afraid to challenge Trump in public.
Many, including me, consider the refusal of Republican politicians to speak up for the good of the country as political cowardliness, but they would rather believe that they just aren’t being stupid. They would tell you privately that they don’t want to jeopardize their ability to work with Trump on mutual goals. While that may be true to some extent, there is a more personal reason which takes a higher priority these politicians – they are afraid of Trump’s supporters back in their home states and districts. While Trump’s approval ratings among all voters are in the tank, averaging a dismal 37%, far lower than any modern President at this point of his term, he still enjoys 80% approval among Republican voters. The Republican members of Congress know that these are the people who will vote in the Republican primaries in 2018 and beyond. As I was writing this piece Senator Jeff Flake illustrated this point in dramatic fashion when he announced on the Senate floor that he would not run for reelection. He said that his criticism of Trump made it impossible to win the Republican primary in his home state of Arizona. He called for more Republicans to speak out against the danger presented by Trump’s presidency, but don’t hold you breath.
However, the problems of the Republicans in Congress goes beyond Trump’s combative style, his total lack of empathy, his lying, and the fact that he is in general a disgusting human being. He has other characteristics which make it extremely difficult for them to work with him with towards common objectives. Trump’s “vaunted” zero sum game negotiating style, which he honed in his decades in the real estate business, doesn’t work well in the Washington politicical arena. In fact it is counterproductive when Congress is dealing with complex issues with numerous, often conflicting political needs which must be reconciled.
Trump’s inability and/or unwillingness to deal with detail is a huge liability. Presidents are supposed to lead. They are supposed to not only propose vague objectives like repeal and replace and tax reform, they are expected to provide initial roadmaps to Congress on how to get there. Presidents are supposed to be able convince balky legislators to fall in line, but how can Trump do that when those members of Congress know far more about the proposed legislation than he does. Trump and his administration just provides vague objectives to Congress, expects them to do all of the work, and than attacks them when it doesn’t get done.
Those attacks are also extremely counterproductive. Senators and Representatives rightfully take pride that according to the constitution Congress is a coequal branch of American government along with the Executive and the Judiciary. The majority of them may be biting their tongues while Trump is attacking their leadership and often Congress in general, but the fact that Trump obviously believes Congress is subordinate to his authority must bother them to no end. They may try to paper over their true feeling “for the good of the Party”, but it makes working with Trump that much more difficult.
In addition, Trump claims to have a conservative mindset, but he really isn’t a true conservative. He ran as populist, a man of the people, the champion of the little guy, the savior of the middle class. While this is all a sham, Trump has to keep up appearances in order to continue to appeal to his base, and that appears to be his prime objective. On the other hand, establishment Republican conservatives have never been the champions of regular Americans. Their beneficiaries are those whose campaign contributions keep them in office, the very rich and big corporations, while they claim that their good fortune will “trickle down” to everyone else. Those opposing philosophies are destined to clash. For instance Republican members of Congress find themselves in a box as they try to identify additional sources of revenue to offset the big giveaways to large corporations and the rich in their new tax plan to make in order to make it as revenue neutral as possible. Meanwhile Trump is warning them in tweets that their proposals better not impact middle class or interfere with Medicare. Were is all of that new revenue supposed to come from?
So like President Obama, Trump has huge challenges in dealing with Congress, but unlike President Obama, Trump’s challenges are of his own making. While Barrack Obama had to deal for six out of his eight years in office with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress hell bent on ensuring that he got nothing done, Trump has been alienating the Congressional members of his own party and then blaming them when nothing gets done. One wonders how long this can go on.
I was reading today on Nate Silvers Five-Thirty-Eight website that while Trump’s approval ratings are again near an all time low, the trend is still downward. Also the percentage of voters (surely all in his Republican base) that are giving him strong approval ratings is still dropping and has reached only 20%. All of this indicates that the floor for his approval ratings may be well below 30%. This creates a dilemma for Republican in Congress in purple and even some light red states like Arizona. If they stick with Trump in order to get through their Republican primaries, their chances of winning in the general elections might be drastically decreased.
In addition, the Congressional Republicans in even dark Red states won’t get a pass. If Bannon carries through with his threat to primary almost all of the current Republican Senators and several establishment Republicans in the House, those politicians will have to deviate from their long held conservative beliefs in the primaries and adopt more populist stances in order to survive. Many of these politicians are very conscientious conservatives and they will be horrified by that choice. If reelected, they won’t be happy campers.
My prediction is that is that some of Bannon’s candidates will win their elections making the Republican caucuses in Congress more Trump friendly operations. However, in the process the previously inconceivable might happen and the Republicans might lose control of either the House or the Senate or even both. If any of those possibilities become a reality, the Congressional Democrats will make Trump’s remaining time in office a living hell.