Solidarity with Trump turns into a tightrope for Senate's GOP majority
Calling President Donald Trump a threat to the Constitution may be as far as retired Marine Gen. James Mattis can go in attacking his former White House boss. Most other alienated ex-aides merely bear witness to Trump as an impulsive bumbler.
Mattis, the former U.S. Secretary of Defense, last week hurled everything but the words sedition and coup. "Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath [as myself] would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens — much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside," Mattis declared in a statement published last week in The Atlantic.
Senate Republicans always have supported Mattis. Fans named him "Mad Dog" long before he joined Trump's Cabinet. Last week, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) openly agreed with the Pentagon chief who announced his resignation in December 2018.
"When I saw General Mattis' comments," she said, "I felt like perhaps we are getting to a point where we can be more honest with the concerns that we might hold internally and have the courage of our own convictions to speak up."
Her remarks matter because Trump and the Senate's Republican majority are as codependent as ever. The time has long since passed for any sort of amicable separation. Trump accedes to the Senate's top priorities. The Senate GOP in turn shields him from impeachment.
U.S. opinion is as polarized as ever along major party lines. If Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's caucus becomes the minority in the fall elections, the Trump White House will be paralyzed even if it survives. If Joe Biden beats Trump but Republicans keep the Senate, the party's power to obstruct Democratic agendas will still count big.
Of Murkowski, Trump tweeted to her fellow Alaska Republicans: "Get any candidate ready, good or bad, I don’t care, I’m endorsing. If you have a pulse, I’m with you!"
Murkowski won't face voters for another two years. Trump’s threats are defensive. For the sake of retaining power, Trump and McConnell (R-Ky.) must keep the rest of the GOP herded even if members privately see in the president as huffing and puffing in a way hostile to the Constitution.
The outrage over George Floyd's death in Minneapolis police custody puts pressure on Congress to legislate something — anything — that addresses root issues. Now, debate surrounds a so-called anti-lynching bill that would penalize relevant officials who fail to protect a person in danger. For Republicans, this legislation could be a matter of political defense.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called Mattis' statement "stunning and powerful," coming from a patriot "whose judgment I respect."
Everyone knows Romney cast the sole vote in his conference to convict Trump on abuse-of-power charges. But it is easy to forget that as critical of Trump as he proved to be, Romney was the previous GOP nominee for president. He got close to 61 million votes in 2012, versus Trump's nearly 63 million in 2016. The Democrats in both elections won nearly 66 million votes, though with different Electoral College results.
In the Senate, Democrats would need to pick up three or four seats to gain a majority, depending on which party ends up controlling the vice presidency.
No wonder Republicans in Washington seem nervous these days, even when realizing that incumbent presidents usually win reelection. Maybe Trump hasn't united his party so much as commandeered it.