For a political party that controls the federal government, the Republicans are in a surprisingly bad position. Instead of being able to use the rare control of the House, Senate, and Oval Office to herald a new dawn of conservatism, the GOP seems dangerously close to fracturing in a bout of political infighting: The Obamacare repeal, once one of biggest pillars of the Republican Party, now seems to be in jeopardy. Many Republican congressmen and Senators are facing an unexpected wave of anger from their constituents regarding the impending repeal, which could lead to several conservatives in the House defecting in order to win re-election.
Part of the anger, which is riling Republican Senators on Capitol Hill, is the fact that House Republicans have yet to release their draft of the long-awaited Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill. Pundits opine that the revealing of the bill, which should occur this week, will be quite contentious and may pit moderate Republicans against staunch conservatives. The roll-out of the new bill will also be complicated by Americans’ record-high approval of Obamacare and distrust of health insurance corporations.
It’s virtually guaranteed that whatever the GOP unveils this week will ruffle lots of feathers… and feather-ruffling couldn’t come at a worse time.
President Donald Trump alleged over the weekend that, prior to the 2016 presidential election, then-president Barack Obama had his phones wiretapped. In similar fashion to Trump’s other controversial allegations, especially the one stating that he only lost the popular vote on Election Day due to millions of illegal voters, no evidence was provided. Arguing about crowd size and popular vote tallies is one thing, but to accuse a former U.S. president of violating the law by attempting to rig an election is even more serious.
And it appears that even many ardent Republicans are not willing to follow president Trump down this rabbit-hole: Even outspoken Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Trey Gowdy (R-SC) are questioning the chief executive’s lack of evidence. Senators like Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have also been cooly skeptical. This makes sense: While Donald Trump can comfortably retire to his golden towers after serving one term in the White House, having attained what nobody thought he ever could, most Republicans in Congress plan to seek re-election.
Many moderate Republicans undoubtedly see it as political suicide to stand with Trump as he accuses his predecessor of behaving like a third-world autocrat. Barack Obama has rejected Trump’s claim, as has the FBI and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. If evidence of Obama’s wiretapping of Trump does exist, you would figure that embattled president Donald Trump would be eager to release it to the public. After all, Trump is the one person who can declassify that information.
Certainly, revealing evidence that he was plotted against by his liberal predecessor would give Donald Trump and the Republican Party much-needed sympathy and public support. Every hour that he refuses to release the evidence decreases its effectiveness, for Trump’s opponents can argue that the time delay was used to fabricate said evidence.
Some are opining that Trump’s insistence of a scandal may be a conscious strategy, with Trump’s team intentionally misinterpreting (or blowing out of proportion) previous stories and allegations of Trump and his campaign being under investigation. Trump’s goal would be to distract the public from his other woes (Russia, Obamacare replacement rollout) while later being able to claim he “misinterpreted” the information on wiretapping and hoping everything blows over.
It’s a shrewd way to “play dumb,” and it still allows Trump to control the news cycle. But the long-term cost grows, for Republicans in Congress are undoubtedly growing weary of Trump’s continual allegations of scandal, bias, and victimhood. At what point will GOP figures begin openly breaking with Trump?
Not everyone will be willing to stay on the Trump roller coaster forever, and public opinion seems to be turning on the president, particularly regarding Russia. Some Republicans are starting to complain that White House drama is beginning to sap public confidence in the federal government, and party defections could occur if the drama continues for another year.
If by March 2018, the White House has not righted its list, it would not be surprising for several moderate Republicans to publicly switch to the Democratic Party, advertising their move as a morally-required break from president Trump. Whether voters will accept such a maneuver remains to be seen, and the Republican Party will vow to punish any defectors. But for younger GOP congressmen, the short-term pain of a break with the Republican Party may be outweighed by the prospects of decades of support from conservative (or moderate) Democrats.
After all, the Democratic Party, still smarting from November’s losses, will welcome any converts with open arms. If you think it can’t happen, remember the two Republican defections on Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos. If they flipped over Betsy, you can bet that some may flip over a direct accusation of lawbreaking by a former president. Barack Obama remains a popular figure for countless millions, and Republicans in Congress who remain silent as Trump insults and condemns Obama may find themselves on the ropes next November in swing states.