By Todd Telford
On Thursday Tenn. Senator Bob Corker (R) openly questioned the competence and stability of President Trump and called his position in the White House as leaving America in “great peril.” Is this a man choosing to be a voice of reason within the stalemated ruling party, or the political calculation of someone running to save his seat in 2018?
The GOP has gone from laughing at Trump, to ignoring him, to supporting his candidacy, to enabling his #CORPservative and racist agenda, to being complicit in putting Trump’s twisted ideas into failed legislation. Nearly seven months have passed with now President Trump making a mockery of the highest office in the land with wildly inaccurate and self-aggrandizing tweets, and virtually all within the GOP continue to bite their lip. They’ve stayed silent or remained mildly supportive when Trump lies, flings out ridiculously flimsy false equivalencies, and cast out dog-whistle phrases to his racist followers.
But knowing the likely end-game of the Trump presidency, a calculation to minimize the damage must be made. How can they turn on Trump and alienate the fewest voters among his base? Which blunder will they choose to be the acknowledged turning point? And most importantly, which one can effectively be seen as the last straw?
Of course, to the rational and objective among us, that point should’ve been reached at some point in the primaries. But the GOP saw how effective his fake populism was, and realized that no other Republican candidate could get close enough to Hillary to make stealing the election through #Crosscheck voter purges a possibility.
So they saddled up with a lazy, ill-informed narcissist, hoping to place the billionaire agenda of tax cuts for the rich and the repeal of Obamacare which would further that cause by eliminating its additional 3.9% on capital gains used as the primary funding mechanism.
The Republican Party knew how awful Trump would be as president, but many assumed that the weight of the office would temper his vindictive decision making process at least a little. They’d ride it out, as long as he got the things done they wanted.
But that isn’t happening. And now, they must choose a #TrumpExit strategy. And the first step of that process is what I call the “Wicked Witch’s Guards Syndrome.” Remember when in “The Wizard of Oz” that moment when a guard handed Dorothy the broom after she liquidated the Wicked Witch of the West? All the guards had snarled and chased the protagonists until they were cornered. But with the witch gone, they suddenly emerged from the spell that controlled them. They instantly became likable. Despite all they did, all the fear that wrought, their smiles were perceived as genuine.
The GOP wants to be able to pull that off too. They want to be able to pivot effectively to not be smothered by Trump’s coat tails. The reality is that all that enabling has made them #Trumpublicans, pushing their #RepubloFascist agenda as quickly as possible throughout the inner workings of the extended executive branch while Trump provides a continuous smokescreen. They don’t want to slow that process down. But the general public has their own turning point too, and if the GOP doesn’t time it right their party will go down the drain in Trump’s whirlpool of lies too.
So, is Corker testing the waters? Is he going rogue, acting as the advance team for the new GOP agenda, or just reacting on the polling within his own state? Every Republican will eventually face primaries. Going against the monied elite means facing huge backing from the next #CORPservative minion. An incumbent must find a way to overcome that flood of funding by being so popular that billionaires won’t spend the cash on a lost cause. But would Corker go there without the party’s stamp of approval?
Vice President Pence will keep with the primary agenda, having been backed throughout his rise by the billionaire Koch brothers. But for the GOP to retain power through the end of the decade, the transition to him in the Oval Office has to conjure the feeling of relief for a couple of hundred million people, both Democrats and Republicans.
President Pence will be stylishly presidential. The party will be more unified behind him. All the craziness will be in the strings pulled behind the scenes, instead of in 140-character bursts. But again, the issue and the timing must be just right. Russian interference could never be the reason, because odds are the GOP is complicit in that too.
The GOP polls best when it is on its high horse, and racism – despite how many constituents have at least a little of that in their hearts – is an issue that at least looks like a viable last straw. If more Republican legislators see that Corker hasn’t suffered from his statement, then that will be a signal for others to jump off the Trump merry-go-round and fashion ways to sidestep the inherent hypocrisy of staying with him this long. They must craft a justifiable flip, like a husband who has just found his wife in bed with another man.
Love is too a spell that can be broken in a heartbeat. The GOP has to show that spell as broken not as a process of liquidation, but perhaps, as Corker is sniffing at, an intervention.