Many political observers thought that Donald Trump had crashed and burned only weeks into his first campaign when he insulted veteran U.S. Senator and 2008 presidential nominee John McCain (R-AZ) by stating that he liked people who “weren’t captured.” Given McCain’s rather unique status as a former prisoner of war, who had been held in the infamous Hanoi Hilton for years by North Vietnam, the jab was clear. It was also nigh unthinkable: The Republican Party, famous for being hawkish on national defense, can’t get enough of praising the U.S. military and its veterans. Few veterans are better known and more revered than McCain.
But here we are, almost two years later, and Donald Trump is McCain’s de facto boss, having won the Republican nomination and the presidential election against the predictions of almost all prognosticators. Amazingly, the Republican Party united around Trump, despite his near-continuous verbal gaffes and aggressive taunts, both before Election Day and after his inauguration, when he quickly revealed that he had no intention of toning it down now that he was president. But, less than six months into Trump’s presidency, has the GOP finally had it?
Despite being rather muted at first about Donald Trump’s notorious tweets, it seems that Republican legislators are finally griping publicly about their leader’s inability to keep it couth. What has finally gotten conservatives in Congress snapping back at their commander-in-chief was a rather crude Trump Twitter tirade (say that five times fast) directed at MSNBC journalist Mika Brzezinski. While many of the Republicans who responded critically to Trump’s tweets, via their own, were already known critics of the former real estate tycoon, new complainers include Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) and U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who happens to be the president pro tem of that body.
Two of the Republicans who complained about Trump’s crude dialogue are invaluable swing votes: Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine are likely to do more than talk when mad…they may switch their votes! Facing uphill battles on controversial legislation like healthcare reform, tax reform, and school vouchers, the GOP cannot afford to lose any votes, especially in the Senate. If the President is raising the hackles of known swing voters from his own party, he may be single-handedly destroying the once-feared GOP control of Congress.
Of course, riling up Republicans is only part of the problem. Keeping the Democratic opposition unified and hungry for action is of equal concern. Facing a Republican majority, the Democratic opposition must work to exhaustion in the hope of peeling off any swing voters from the GOP. Republican leaders are hoping that, eventually, many Democrats in Congress will grow tired of working at a frantic pace and simply let the GOP tide bring in its desired legislation.
Every time Trump has a Twitter tantrum, however, Democrats’ resolve is renewed.
Trump’s continuing bad behavior online should be raising concerns that he is slowly poisoning the Republican brand, and some Republicans who want to win re-election might begin caucusing with Democrats. Each new tweet-storm from the commander-in-chief decreases the likelihood that he will ever settle into his post and act “presidential,” forcing longtime congressional Republicans to make a tough decision: Do they remain loyal to someone who is going to remain an obnoxious lout throughout his entire time in the Oval Office, or do they begin to distance themselves in earnest?
Many congressional Republicans have poured decades or hard work into their careers. Is loyalty to Donald Trump worth having an impressive political career tarnished in its final years, marred by quiet obedience to a White House that devolved political discourse to something resembling insult comedy? Frankly, many career Republicans are probably getting pretty pissed that they’ve hitched their wagons to this foul-mouthed star.
But are GOP leaders ready to insist on a Twitter-vention to try and wrest Trump away from the keyboard? Due to the separation of powers, there’s not much congressional leaders like Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell can do. Trump’s own staffers might be able to make passionate pleas, but angry Presidents can dismiss their employees at will. It is unlikely that anyone who could get a pink slip is willing to risk Trump’s wrath.
Paul Ryan, often seen as future presidential material, may openly call out Trump for his childish behavior in a public power play. Telling the President to log off, and thus risking a feud between the Oval Office and Congress, would signal that Ryan’s got some steel in his spine.
Conservative critics of Trump would likely rally around the budget wonk in droves, making him the leader of the anti-Trumpers. It could pit Donald Trump and Paul Ryan against each other for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination, setting up the possibility that Trump could be the first incumbent in modern history to not receive his party’s nod for a second term.