Little Reason to Think Republicans Will Abandon Trump Now

Charlie Cook New
October 25, 2019

Despite the saying—usually misattributed to Albert Einstein—that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” it is a bit rash to declare crazy those who for three years have regularly predicted that the latest controversy or transgression would drive congressional Republicans to finally turn against President Trump. But you have to wonder.

Trump’s announcements that he would pull U.S. troops out of the region of Syria that borders with Turkey—effectively green-lighting Turkey’s incursion in Syria (since scaled back to leaving several hundred special-operations members behind)—and that the next G-7 summit would be held at the Trump National Doral Miami golf resort (also rescinded) have prompted another chorus of ‘this time is different.’ Now, these folks argue, you will see a number of House Republicans come out in favor of impeachment and at least a few Senate Republicans who would entertain the notion of convicting Trump and removing him from office.

Well, one Republican House member, Rep. Francis Rooney, did open the door Friday to potentially voting for impeachment, only to announce Saturday that he was retiring from Congress at the end of this term.

It can be argued that a Republican member of Congress announcing possible support for impeachment is, in effect, announcing their retirement from Congress. In fact, a Republican member doesn’t need to go that far to commit political hari-kari. The transgressions of former Sens. Bob Corker and Jeff Flake and former Rep. Mark Sanford were far less.

The operative word in the last sentence: former. On many issues, there is little tolerance for GOP politicians’ dissent regarding Trump. There is an assumption that criticism will bring a primary challenge the next time that member is up for reelection.

It is often said that the survival instinct is the most powerful drive in humans. Political survival for an elected official works the same way.

The notable exception seems to be foreign policy. Republican members of Congress have been willing to criticize the president on foreign policy issues but are considerably more reticent about splitting with him over domestic issues or his personal behavior. Republicans have felt a freer hand in criticizing the president on issues ranging from sanctions against Russia for interference in the 2016 elections and against Saudi Arabia after the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi to his handling of negotiations with North Korea and the civil unrest in Hong Kong.

It is theorized that while some Trump supporters are basically isolationists or even nativists, more probably just don’t follow or care much about foreign policy, and thus get less torqued up when a Republican splits with Trump on those issues.

But that does bring up a larger question: For those Republicans and other conservatives who aren’t part of the hard-core Trump base but still give him a positive approval rating in the polls—he generally boasts around 90 percent approval among those who identify as Republicans—why do they hang in there when so much of what he says and does offends them?

Many Republicans and conservatives like the end product, if not the process and manner in which it occurs. There are quite a few Republicans who are dismayed by Trump’s language and manners, or lack thereof, but they certainly have enjoyed a strong economy, the tax cuts enacted in early 2018, the cutback in regulations, and, most of all, conservative appointments to the federal bench—from the district-court level all the way to two Supreme Court justices.

Some have frowned upon Trump’s brinkmanship with China and other trading partners, including an aggressive use of tariffs, but do privately concede that previous administrations of both parties had not been aggressive enough. For these Republicans and conservatives, when they mentally conduct a cost-benefit analysis, they see the benefits outweighing the costs. Given this, don’t hold your breath waiting for many more GOP members to come out for impeachment. It’s not going to happen.

Meanwhile on the Democratic side, it’s not hard to see many of the party’s establishment figures wringing their hands over Elizabeth Warren’s rise in the polls and, some fear, the inevitability of her winning the nomination. For some, it is a fundamental disagreement with her populist agenda. Others simply see her having a harder time beating Trump than a more center-left, establishment-friendly alternative. Interestingly, they are doing little about it.

In yet another example of the perfect being the enemy of the good, the establishment’s search for the perfect nominee is keeping them on the sidelines. While some focus on Joe Biden’s age—that he has lost a step or two over the last decade or two, is a bit verbose, and has a chronic case of foot-in-mouth disease—they haven’t really rallied behind an alternative. One might think that they would choose one course or the other, but instead they’re standing on the sidelines and complaining.