The list of powerful figures Trump has alienated, injured, and offended is growing. Paradoxically, many of them are members of his own, rather than the opposing, party. How many such enemies can Trump make and survive?
For more than a year, the GOP establishment has presented a “business-as-usual” facade. Having tolerated the rise of candidate Trump, who vowed to wage war against the Washington establishment, leading Republicans have mainly tried to make lemonade out of lemons, sucking up to President Trump once he was installed. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell prostituted themselves, claiming that the president and the GOP-controlled Congress shared the same values and political agenda. Papering over their differences with Trump for the sake of personal and political gain, they collaborated instead of organizing a principled opposition to him on Capitol Hill.
Individually, some Republicans have spoken out against Trump: Jeff Flake, John McCain, Bob Corker, and Lindsay Graham come to mind. Their criticisms, though brave, fall short of organized opposition. As for Trumps’ former rivals for the presidential nomination—remember the legion of GOP candidates that included congressman Rand Paul and Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz?—: despite Trump’s shameful treatment of them, these “leaders” have blended into the woodwork of the Capitol, as if to avoid further personal injury. Republicans on the Hill who have followed the path of least resistance to Trump will go down in history as spineless, feckless cowards.
Belatedly, Republicans are beginning to reckon the costs of this unbecoming position. Speaker Paul Ryan’s abrupt decision to leave Congress with no plan other than to spend time with his three teenage children in Janesville, Wisconsin, smacks of the political wilderness. He joins some 36 House Republicans and 3 Senate Republicans fleeing the Hill. The Republicans have not seen this level of quitting, according to Frontline, since World War II.
The question is, what will become of the free-floating political capital that these phalanxes of displaced and disaffected Republicans embody? How long will it be before Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Rex Tillerson, Jeff Flake, Paul Ryan, and their ilk find a new party model, or a new means of influencing a politics grown ever more chaotic and uncertain? How long will it be before moderates of all stripes realize that it is very much in their interests to unite? The GOP is becoming a Trump casualty. Will its survivors stand against their destroyer now?