by Jeffrey A. Rendall
It’s now been over a week since Arizona Senator Jeff Flake delivered his melodramatic retirement announcement speech on the senate floor and the fateful words the establishment lawmaker uttered are still reverberating around Washington.
Some even believe Flake and fellow retiring Senator Bob Corker are now “free” from the usual invisible restraints placed on politicians running to retain their offices, suggesting the two could make things pretty difficult for President Donald Trump and the GOP majorities going forward. Are they right?
Sarah Westwood of the Washington Examiner reported, “Neither Corker nor Flake have the same incentives as their fellow GOP lawmakers, between now and Nov. 2018, to fall in line behind Trump as their party works to pass tax reform, repeal Obamacare, cobble together an immigration package that legislates DACA protections and keeps the government open past the holidays.
“The margin of error for Republicans, with a slim 52-member majority in the Senate, was already too narrow for the GOP’s comfort. It took just one Trump critic, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to sink months of work on a healthcare plan that the president pushed aggressively through the House and Senate.”
I hate to disagree with Westwood but it actually took three Republicans (and every single Democrat) to wreck the Obamacare repeal effort. Those were McCain, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. There were others at various times but the same half dozen or so GOP problem children keep getting sent to the familiar principal’s office.
They’re certainly making their fellow Republican senators uncomfortable. Do they care?
It could be argued the situation Flake, Corker and other Republican malcontents forced their more principled colleagues into is analogous to those professional football players who have remained standing with their hands over their hearts this season while their disgruntled attention-seeking teammates sit, kneel or do some other offensive gesture (like raising their fist) during the playing of the national anthem.
In the two senators’ particular case they’re like the ones protesting as their coworkers stand uncomfortably near them wishing there was a large rock to crawl under whenever the squawkers open their beaks. Staid senate decorum indicates you shouldn’t interrupt or chastise a fellow senator while they’re speaking, but what else are you supposed to do to demonstrate that you’re not onboard with whatever stunt the outcasts are performing?
Similarly if you’re a patriotic football player and you’re still standing while everyone else around you has taken a knee you stick out like a sore thumb for simply doing what you’re supposed to do and deem is the appropriate reaction under the circumstances. How many teams’ morale has been utterly destroyed by one or two guys making a donkey out of themselves on some fringe social cause?
There was the case a few years ago where Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe went out of his way to champion same-sex marriage, a subject that clearly made some of his teammates uncomfortable. Kluwe was eventually cut by the team’s management (who said it was a football decision), sued and reached a settlement – but the damage was already done. To make a long story short, Kluwe legally extorted the team’s owners into making large contributions to LGBTQ causes. For what, to get him to pipe down? Can you imagine if a conservative player tried the same ploy?
They’d be placed on a public shaming pedestal and flogged with news stories of bigotry and intolerance. Former Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk can probably attest; once announced, his pro-life stance brought him nothing but condemnation from the thought-control cops (the only type of police the protesters seem to appreciate). What’s controversial about believing in life?
In Kluwe’s specific case, he single-handedly upset the entire team’s chemistry and his politically correct crusade divided the players into two camps – those who supported traditional culture and those who were willing to subjugate themselves to anything the leftists threw out there. Of course those who dared speak in favor of the Biblical definition of marriage were raked over the coals by the relentless and unforgiving media. It was sad.
Former Viking Adrian Peterson, for example, drew a ton of attention for simply saying he didn’t believe in Kluwe’s cause. Because of the media focus on Peterson people quickly learned to keep their mouths shut for fear of finding themselves being called before the guilty-until-proven-innocent tribunal of progressive culture.
You would be a fool to think such leftist virtue signaling isn’t having an impact on many players in the NFL today who must be terrified to speak out against the token few troublemakers who are so aggrieved that they feel a need to insult everyone to make a point.
Will it be the same for the GOP senators around Flake and Corker? Will they hold it in?
Granted the United States Senate doesn’t depend on “chemistry” the way a pro sports team does but there’s no disputing that a few bad apples can contaminate the whole bunch. Should Corker’s and Flake’s personal vendettas towards Trump become so unyielding that they decide to strap on the proverbial legislative suicide vests and take down the entire party with them there’s little that can be done to stop them.
Security metal detectors don’t buzz when a senator decides to go AWOL. They’re the consummate lone wolves.
But the party base will react, regardless – and it won’t be pretty. If Flake and Corker sabotage the legitimate efforts of so many in the GOP – and if the leadership fails to publicly call them out on their actions – then anti-ruling class groups (like the one led by Steve Bannon) will see exponential growth and every establishment senator will find himself (or herself) with the weight of the public on top of them.
It should be noted “traitor” John McCain suggested the main reason why he opposed the most recent Obamacare repeal effort was due to the leadership’s failure to honor the legislative process and not solely because of substance. It’s a convenient way to explain away his apostasy, but if Mitch McConnell gives him and others of his mindset what they want (i.e. regular order) on issues like tax reform there will be few excuses left for wayward senators to employ.
Both Flake and Corker still have the conservatives who supported them in their careers to answer to. Will they take the low road and kill the desperately needed tax cut because of personal hurt feelings towards Trump?
Time will tell. Another factor to consider: if tax reform passes it could be Trump’s ticket to reelection.
Hal Lambert wrote at Real Clear Politics, “Once the battle for tax reform is over, we must remember that the larger war is far from over. We need to keep the country moving in the right direction. President Trump has proposed a four-point program of tax reform, regulatory reform, energy reform and trade reform to make the United States the best place in the world to live, work and do business. Combine those four elements and economic growth will take off.
“If Republicans can pick up seats in the midterm elections and enact his agenda to ‘Make America Great Again,’ President Trump will need a new slogan in 2020. Maybe it should be ‘Keep America Great.’
“And we will look back at November 2017 as the month President Trump won his second term.”
Lambert’s is an awful rosy forecast and there are a million things that could trip up the Trump presidency between now and election day in three years, not the least of which is people like Flake and Corker and Collins and Murkowski and McCain (among others). And if the GOP does receive reinforcements to help pass the Trump agenda the new “troops” better be more like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee and Rand Paul than the mushy moderate go-along-to-get-along establishment types.
We need people who share Trump’s “drain the swamp” viewpoint in both the Senate and House. Only then will there be sufficient pressure on the leadership to move off the stump of lethargy.
Someone like Ohio’s 40 year-old principled conservative Josh Mandel would be a great step in the right direction for Republicans. Mandel has been endorsed by a who’s who list of the limited government movement and if he wins the GOP nomination next year he’ll go head-to-head against liberal dinosaur Democrat Senator Sherrod Brown in November.
It should also not be forgotten that Mitch McConnell remains in the senate driver’s seat and there’s a lot more work to do by Bannon and crew to help change the leadership status quo. By all means, the fight has just commenced.
This month’s two elections may contribute clues to what could happen next year, too.
Al Weaver and David M. Drucker of the Washington Examiner wrote, “Presidents are often a drag on members of their party in competitive House and Senate races in the midterm. If the outcome in Virginia suggests that Republicans are immune to this dynamic even amid the president’s often-provocative rhetoric and Twitter rants, Democrats could be in deep trouble in 2018, or at least end up far less successful.
“’How can anyone take seriously their claims of winning the majority’ if they can’t win in Virginia, asked one GOP operative who specializes in House races. That would also indicate that Republicans are primed in 2018 to turn out a fractious coalition of Trump voters and traditional Republicans despite the conflict between the president and the GOP establishment.”
A lot of the analysis of the electoral dynamics in both Virginia and New Jersey homes in on how voters will react to Trump and what’s going on in Washington. I believe a clearer indicator will be whether Republican candidates are willing and able to tie themselves to the same issue agenda that pushed Trump over the top despite being less than personally popular.
We’ll know more in less than a week. Politics is always unpredictable and it’s incredibly difficult if not impossible to grasp which issues or events will motivate majorities to turnout. It’s a little easier to pin down how people will react to Trump bashers like Bob Corker and Jeff Flake – in a word, negatively.
Reprinted with permission from ConservativeHQ.com.