Contacts with Republican aides — and a half dozen GOP members of the House and Senate — shows increased tension and unease within the party about tarnished president Donald Trump.
“What is emerging cannot be ignored,” says one Republican Senator willing to talk privately about his concerns but still won’t go on the record. “It gets worse every day.”
“It feels like a horror movie,” says another who also in’t willing to go public.
As the full House gets ready for its first vote on the expanding impeachment process, a few Republicans are willing to express their reservations about the president they have tried to protect during his tumultuous first term.
“They’ve decided that they’re going to take it all grudgingly — and privately, perhaps, in disgust — but they’re not going to give up the farm,” Al Cardenas, former chairman of the American Conservative Union, tells The Washington Post. “It’s been piling on, piling on, piling on, and I see defense fatigue on behalf of the Republicans in the Congress.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) has criticized Trump. So have senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Notes Brooking’s Institution senior fellow William A. Galston:
They normalized a president whose conduct they are now being asked to judge as so abnormal as to warrant his removal from office.
To the extent that they quietly harbor conscientious objections to what the president is doing — or, even more spectacularly, how he’s doing it — they have to weigh the calling of conscience against political considerations. There’s a reason why ‘Profiles in Courage’ is a very short book. Courage is not the norm. It’s the exception.
Some Republicans feel retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) may vote to remove Trump when the impeachment trial is held in the Senate.
“I’d be a juror, so I have no comment,” he says when reporters ask. Other GOP senators admit privately that Alexander is known for his personal integrity and could vote against Trump. Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-Penn.) is also one who has avoided contact with Trump lately.
As more testimony points to improper and criminal activity by Trump and his administration, cracks continue to appear in what once was considered an unbreakable wall of support for the president.
“The picture coming out of it is not a good one,” says Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican.
“We need to be thoughtful about waiting tor the House and whatever conclusion they reach,” says Missouri Republican sen. Roy Blunt.
Republican Senators like Collins, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Marsha McSally of Arizona and Thom Tillis have polls showing independent voters in their states saying Trump has gone too far. Nationally, polls show most Americans disapprove Trump’s job performance.
“Everybody in their heart is nervous,” former senator Rick Santorum, a Republican from Pennsylvania, tells the Post. “During the Clinton impeachment, he tried to endear himself to the public as much as possible. But this is the opposite. The base loves him but the president isn’t doing anything to win [other] people over, and that troubles Republicans who have to win support next year from people beyond the base.”
Adds GOP consultant Rich Wilson:
At some point, McConnell is going to have to perform triage to save the majority. How the Senate Republicans handle everything is all going to come down to how threatened Mitch feels and how worried he is about losing Colorado, North Carolina and a few other states. And if Trump’s numbers keep dropping, that decision is going to come sooner than later for him.
“Everyone is getting a little shaky at this point,” says Brendan Buck, counselor to former House speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). “Members have gotten out on a limb with this president many times only to have it be cut off by the president. They know he’s erratic, and this is a completely unsteady and developing situation.”
Romney sums it up: “By all appearances, the President’s brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling.”
In an Iowa town meeting held by Sen. Joni Ernst, voter Amy Haskin expressed the growing frustration:
Where is the line? When are you guys going to say, “Enough,” and stand up and say, “You know what? I’m not backing any of this.”
Ernst’s response? “I can say, ‘Yea, nay, whatever.’ The president is going to say what the president is going to do.”
Retired Gen. Colin Powell, secretary of state under George W. Bush, says “the Republican Party has got to get a grip on itself. Republican leaders and members of the Congress are holding back because they’re terrified of what will happen [to] any one of them if they speak out.”
Former Republican Sen. Jeff Flake calls the Republican support of Trump a deal with the devil.
“There is a concern that he’ll get through it, and he’ll exact revenge on those who didn’t stand with him,” Flake said. “There is no love for the president among Senate Republicans, and they aspire to do more than answer questions about his every tweet and issue. But they know this is the president’s party and the bargain’s been made.”
As with all bargains with the guy wielding his pitchfork, the deal includes a high price that has to be paid. That bill is overdue.
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