Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake gave a brave and terrific speech this past week, which is worth reading in full. It was both important, and truly unprecedented. A sitting senator condemned the president, a man of his own party, not on the basis of policy disagreements, but for being a threat to our democracy:
We must never regard as “normal” the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals. We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country - the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have all been elected to serve. [snip] And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else: It is dangerous to a democracy.
Flake announced that he won’t seek re-election next year. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker has taken a similar path, denouncing the president as unfit and passing up the chance to be re-elected. John McCain has offered harsh criticism as well—and delivered a significant, tangible setback to Trump by providing one of the crucial votes against Trumpcare more than once. Finally, although he holds no office, the words of George W. Bush—the most recent president from the party Trump now leads—matter as well. Without uttering the man’s name, he made clear his rejection of Trumpism. This is not normal.
“I am a Republican. I am a conservative. I would love to have a Republican president, but not at any cost,” Flake said this week. The time has come to see what cost he and those who believe as he does about Trump are willing to bear. We’ll also see how many others join him. The editorial board at the conservative Weekly Standard isn’t optimistic:
The great bulk of elected Republicans have surrendered to the forces of Donald J. Trump. And they didn’t even put up much of a fight. Has a hostile takeover of a historic institution ever been accomplished with less resistance?
That editorial also noted that once upon a time, Ted Cruz refused to endorse Trump, but this week the Texas senator responded to Flake and Corker just like the true Trumpian he’s become: “Everyone shut up and do your job is my view.”
Of course, I disagree with Cruz about what job needs to be done. But in recent days, the erstwhile Stop Trump caucus has shown that they are more inclined to listen to Cruz than to me. The Senate voted 51-49 to pass the Trump budget (followed by the House a few days later). Its passage enables Trump’s rich man’s tax cut to get through the Senate by reconciliation, i.e., no filibusters allowed. The only no vote on the budget came from Sen. Rand Paul. Flake, Corker, and McCain voted aye.
All three also voted yes last Tuesday to wipe out a rule put forth by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (an agency every Democrat should talk about, because it defines which party really fights for regular people against corporate abuse) that would’ve stopped banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions from forcing potential customers to sign away their right to sue and pushing them into binding arbitration. The rule was designed to protect consumers from abuse—like the kind perpetrated by Wells Fargo, just to name one example. That vote passed the Senate 50-50 after Vice President Pence cast the deciding vote. Any of the Stop Trumpers could have, well, stopped it.
Jeff Flake literally talked the talk this week, and that is worthy of praise. Now he needs to start walking the walk. The same goes for Bob Corker. Both have been reliable votes for Trump since he took office, and that must change. John McCain must do to the whole of Trump’s plans what he did to Trumpcare.
Two weeks ago I argued that Republicans must sacrifice the Trump presidency in order to save their party—not to mention the country. With Flake, McCain, and Corker, the Stop Trump caucus now has enough members to derail Trump’s agenda in the Senate, and make Trump a failed president. The time has come to act.
If Trump succeeds as president, however, his takeover of the Republican party will be complete, and will lead to a fundamental realignment of our entire political system. It will mean that a New Yorker will complete the process that began when anti-Civil Rights southern Dixiecrats began moving into the GOP. We will become a country in which one party defines itself wholly as the party of white nationalism, and the other as the party that embraces a pluralistic America. That kind of tribalization of politics can tear a multiethnic society like ours apart.
Flake mentioned cost in the above-cited quotation. The cost for stopping Trump is going to be defeating the Republican agenda, including the rich man’s tax cuts that are, in all likelihood, the one thing Republican politicians across the board believe in above all. But that is the price the Republican Party must pay for having dallied so long with the politics of racial resentment. The tail now wags the dog—who has become so rabid that it must, in political terms, be put down.