Whether it concerns President-elect Donald Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, his unwillingness to remove conflicts of interest, his bizarre defense of Vladimir Putin on Russian hacking, his nomination of unqualified Cabinet members who happened to be big donors, his attacks on the free press, his threats and inducements to businesses to do his bidding or his announced disinterest in taking intelligence briefings, the reaction of the vast majority of Republicans is to hide or spin for Trump.
The excuses for not objecting when he does egregious things include. These are real examples uttered by one or more Republicans on Capitol Hill, operatives, advisers, etc.:
▪ He’s not president yet. (No, really, they say such a thing, as though he’ll be more responsive or Congress will have more leverage after he gets control over the IRS, CIA, FBI, etc.)
▪ Maybe he’ll do the right thing, e.g. divest. (Again, they utter this kind of rubbish despite heaps of evidence that he lacks any ethical compass.)
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▪ But we need to get tax reform and repeal Obamacare. (As if reducing marginal tax rates would justify constitutional violations, or as if their forbearance will make Trump more agreeable on policy issues.)
▪ If we criticize, he won’t listen to us later. (No, seriously, they seem to believe that if they are patsies now, they will have influence later.)
▪ He doesn’t mean what he says. (We are back to not taking seriously the man who will be commander in chief.)
▪ He’s not going to get involved in specifics anyway. (Like negotiating over how many Carrier employees should stay in the United States?)
▪ He’s hiring good people. (Mike Flynn? Ben Carson? Stephen K. Bannon?)
▪ We cannot do anything. (Didn’t they run for weeks on a message of acting as a check on Trump?)
At times, one can only cringe at conservative “leaders” prostrating themselves before Trump. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., with unctuousness approaching Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, levels, exclaimed: “I’m impressed with how Donald Trump handles himself. I’m impressed with how magnanimous he is. I’m impressed with just his demeanor, his temperament.” He all but offered to mow Trump’s lawn. Obviously, Ryan thinks flattery is going to work, but my goodness, have some self-respect!
There is nothing wrong with praising politicians, especially those on your side, when they do something well, even if you oppose them on virtually everything else. To the contrary, Cabinet picks such as Jim Mattis, John Kelly, Elaine Chao and Mike Pompeo should be commended. When Trump says something bright (climate change might be real), it would be churlish to withhold approval. As we have said, backing away from idiotic campaign promises (e.g. deport 11 million people) should be cheered. That said, giving an ovation to highly problematic nominees such as Rex W. Tillerson, Goldman Sachs tycoons or an erratic personality such as Flynn or hiding under the covers while Trump tramples on the Constitution does the country a disservice.
The public is much more discriminating. According to a Politico/Morning Consult poll, for example, 79 percent think it is very or somewhat important for Trump to remove himself from business operations and by a 45 to 27 percent margin they think he should sell off all or some of his businesses. By a 60 to 21 percent margin they think he shouldn’t have business interests or holdings in foreign countries.
Trump, remember, lost the popular vote and remains a historically unpopular figure. Many of his actions and appointees will draw very negative reactions. There is no need for Republicans to wrap themselves around Trump; indeed, when things go haywire, that tactic likely will be a problem for the incumbent party in 2018. Republicans would be far wiser to stand their ground, at least once in a while, and draw the line in the sand on critical issues (e.g. honoring the Constitution). They might avoid looking quite so pathetic — and they might actually win on some issues applying leverage before he gets the powers of the presidency.
Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for the Washington Post.