POLITICS
08/10/2018 07:01 am ET Updated Aug 10, 2018

The 12 Trumpiest Members of Congress

Congrats?
Carlos Barria / Reuters

Every Republican member of Congress has become, at the least, a little Trump-y. That’s been exemplified by their willingness to tolerate scandals without investigation, allow tainted appointees to remain at their posts, support the president’s agenda and, for the most part, turn a blind eye toward his inflammatory, divisive and often downright false rhetoric and tweets.

The following 12 lawmakers, however, are arguably the Trumpiest.

Many of them echo his alarming rhetoric. But all of them ― most importantly ― run interference for him and support his legislative to-do list reflexively, principles be damned. And they’ve all been complicit in the remaking of the GOP into a Donald Trump fiefdom, where the rank-and-file walk in lockstep to his command.

Regardless of what their political futures hold for them, history will remember these Republicans for their obedience and obsequiousness to Trump.

Senate

David Perdue (Georgia)

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Perdue’s alliance with Trump should come as no surprise. He may lack the president’s flamboyance, but he shares a similar background with him ― Perdue was a longtime business executive with no prior political experience before his 2014 election to the Senate.

He genuinely seems at peace with Trump and his style of politics. And he has maintained unwavering loyalty to the president and his legislative agenda ― opposing GOP-led efforts to curtail his tariffs and advocating for his cuts to legal immigration.

“I’d say there’s been no more ardent supporter of the president” in the Senate than Perdue, Marc Short, the former White House legislative director, once said.

Perdue, 68, is so ride-or-die with Trump that, when the president at a private session with a few lawmakers said he didn’t want immigrants from “shithole countries,” Perdue ― and his Trumpkin buddy Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas said they heard him say “shithouse.” As if that made any difference. 

Orrin Hatch (Utah)

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As Hatch, 84, brings his career to an end as the longest-serving Republican senator ever, he seems to live in an alternate universe where he praises the wildly unpredictable Trump as “one of the best” presidents he’s served under. And he’s gushed that the Trump tax cuts may lead to the “greatest presidency that we’ve seen, not only in generations, but maybe ever.”

As chairman of the Finance Committee, meanwhile, Hatch has done little to push back against the protectionist Trump trade policies that cut squarely against the grain of traditional Republican philosophy.

What has puzzled some is that Hatch would seem to have plenty of political latitude to criticize Trump and sometimes stray from supporting him. Along with the fact that he’s retiring, he comes from an overwhelmingly Mormon state where Trump’s personal pedigree ― his two divorces, his alleged extramarital affairs, his insulting comments about woman ― has not played well among an otherwise GOP-tilted populace.

But Hatch, himself a Mormon, has taken a pass from breaking with the president. 

Tom Cotton (Arkansas) 

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It doesn’t take a lot of prescience to see that Cotton is angling to go places ― including the Oval Office, eventually. And so it’s clear the percentage play for him ― given Trump’s massive popularity with the GOP base ― has been to stick like glue with the president.

The 41-year-old Iraq War veteran has been mentioned as a possible candidate for several administration positions, most recently CIA director. He hasn’t been tapped yet, but a high-profile job remains a distinct possibility, especially if Trump wins a second term.

In the meantime, he’s establishing himself as a Trump loyalist. That’s especially so with his strong support for the president’s proposed border wall and push for restrictions on legal immigration ― cornerstone issues for Trump partisans.

Cotton is also a partisan bomb thrower who knows how to generate media attention ― which is exactly what Trump likes. 

Rand Paul (Kentucky)

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Out of all the members on this list, Paul is perhaps the biggest surprise.

One of Trump’s multiple challengers for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Paul said early in the campaign that he viewed the businessman as unqualified to be president. He also termed him “sophomoric” and warned that nominating Trump would lead to the GOP’s greatest electoral defeat since the party’s 1964 rout.

Paul, 58, quickly became roadkill in the ’16 race. And now, the libertarian-leaning senator eagerly mocks Democrats over their “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” He also plays golf with the president.

He occasionally gains headlines by dangling the threat of opposing an important Trump nominee in the closely divided Senate. He stuck to his guns over Gina Haspel to head the CIA ― but more than enough Democrats backed her to make his opposition moot. But he folded after expressing concerns about Trump’s pick of Mike Pompeo as secretary of state.

A former version of Paul also would be opposing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. But again, he has caved.

On another front, he fiercely defends Trump’s seeming dismissal of the threat posed by Russian interference in U.S. politics. And while Trump’s kowtowing toward Russian President Vladimir Putin last month at their joint Helsinki press conference spurred rare criticism from many of the president’s GOP stalwarts, Paul rallied to his defense.

Paul represents a state Trump carried by about 30 percentage points; he seems to have embraced the upside of serving as a right-hand man for him.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky)

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It’s long been evident that McConnell, 76, cares about really one thing: power. With Trump in office, he gets to wield it with maximum effect in the Senate ― which explains what he does and doesn’t do.

To refrain from angering Trump, he says he sees no need for legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller from being dumped by the president and shortcircuit the investigation into Russian election interference.

McConnell also kept a low public profile while the furor built over Trump’s controversial policy of separating the children of undocumented immigrants from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

What he focuses on is passing the legislation near and dear to his heart, most obviously the massive tax cut enacted late last year. And he steadily pushes through the confirmation process for a stream of young, conservative judges.

McConnell will be known for reshaping the federal judiciary for decades. 

House 

Matt Gaetz (Florida)

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Primarily through appearances on Fox News and the Fox Business Network, Gaetz has taken it upon himself to promote deep state conspiracy theories, run interference for Trump with the Mueller probe, and to praise the president at every turn.

In carving out his niche, Gaetz has been willing to associate himself with such unsavory characters as alt-right troll Chuck Johnson and appear on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Infowars program to warn of a “cabal” targeting Trump. Then, he generated positive coverage for himself by ultimately turning on both men.

As one of Trump’s unofficial spokesmen in Congress, he has relentlessly attacked the FBI, other parts of the Justice Department and Democrats as part of the effort to undermine Mueller’s Russia probe ― perhaps the surest way to win Trump’s devotion.

Gaetz, 36, definitely has been vying to be known as the Trumpiest member of Congress. 

Devin Nunes (California)

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Once regarded as a moderate GOP voice, Nunes has taken it upon himself to clear Trump’s name of any offense ― his role as impartial chairman of the House Intelligence Committee be damned.

If there were any doubts about his goal, they were dispelled in secretly recorded remarks he made at a recent fundraiser in Spokane, Washington, that surfaced on MSNBC. If Mueller “won’t clear the president, we’re the only ones, which is really the danger,” he said. And that’s why the GOP has to “keep all these seats” and “keep the majority” in the House, he said.

Instead of actually looking into Russian election meddling, Nunes oversaw a partisan investigation by his committee that attempted to obscure Russia’s preference for Trump and its efforts to influence the presidential election. He has repeatedly compromised the supposed independence of his committee’s work by working with the White House to conflate U.S. surveillance of foreign actors with spying on the Trump campaign.

He’s eagerly joined Trump in attacking news outlets such as CNN as “fake news.” Instead of actually investigating real “fake news” ― like sites operated by foreigners that published completely fabricated reports ― Nunes actually launched his own version of fake news, “The California Republican.” It purported to be a news company, but was actually just a space for glorified press releases and flattering news excerpts ― paid for by the Nunes campaign.

Nunes, 44, has also grown personally close to Trump. Former White House strategist Steve Bannon once said virtually no other member of Congress had formed a stronger connection with Trump.

Ron DeSantis (Florida)

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At one time, DeSantis came across as a quiet, Harvard-educated, libertarian-leaning conservative. But especially since the Mueller investigation gained steam, he’s joined the ranks of Trump’s most ardent defenders and ― hand-in-glove ― become a regular of Fox News.

The cable network and Trump have obliged by helping him leap from relative obscurity to the leading GOP contender for Florida’s governorship.

A recent ad for his campaign gained attention for its unabashed Trumpiness. In it, the 39-year-old DeSantis used his young children to show how closely he aligns with the president. One brief scene shows his daughter building a wall with blocks ― get it? ― in another he reads to his baby son from Trump’s famous book The Art of the Deal. The infant, meanwhile, sports a Make America Great Again onesie.

As part of the chorus routinely blasting the so-called deep state, DeSantis has repeatedly accused the FBI of going after Trump because of partisan disagreements ― using misleading interpretations of former FBI agent Peter Strzok’s texts to push that argument. He also proudly claims to have been one of the first Republicans to say Trump’s firing of James Comey as FBI director last year was the right thing to do.


Chris Collins (New York)

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Collins, 68, was the first member of Congress to endorse Trump ― and that has given him a special cachet. He routinely talks with the president, and makes it clear to any reporter who will listen that Congress needs to get onboard with Trump’s agenda ― no matter what that agenda may be.

In the blowback over the Trump-Putin press conference, Collins ignored the president’s bootlicking. Instead, he said he was frustrated with Democrats trying to “nullify” the 2016 election with “claims of Russian interference.”

“The fact is, any Russian meddling did not make a difference in the election, and there was no campaign collusion. It’s time the Mueller investigation comes to a conclusion,” Collins said in a statement.

Collins, formerly a back-bencher, has reveled in the spotlight he gained when Trump ended up winning the White House. But this week he got a burst of unwelcome publicity ― an indictment on security fraud charges for insider trading, stemming from passing along information to his son and others about a pharmaceutical company for which he’s been a board member. At the same time, he served on a committee that had jurisdiction over the pharmaceutical industry.

A business dealing that presents an inherent conflict of interest, involves your son, and has spurred allegations of breaking the law? Seems like he might get some sympathy from Trump.

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (California)

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McCarthy ― or “my Kevin,” as the president refers to him ― also got onboard the Trump train early in the ’16 campaign. A major benefit of that has been constant contact with the White House.

True, as a member of House leadership, McCarthy, 53, sometimes has to straddle two worlds ― support for Trump’s agenda and acting to protect the chamber’s Republican majority can be in conflict. But McCarthy has made it clear that his primary interest is in doing Trump’s bidding and in running interference for him on Capitol Hill.

In an emblematic story of his modus operandiMcCarthy observed that Trump only likes red and pink Starburst candies. McCarthy had an aide buy a bunch of Starburst packages, sort through them and then deliver a jar of just the reds and pinks to Trump.

Mark Meadows (North Carolina)

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Meadows, head of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, is in constant contact with Trump.

Occasionally, he likes to tout his willingness to stand up to Trump on policy matters ― like he did, temporarily, on the GOP effort to repeal Obamacare (the bid to dismantle the law wasn’t quite sweeping enough for the Freedom Caucus). But for the most part, Meadows has been key in bringing often unyielding ideological conservatives to Trump’s side. In the end, Meadows was essential in the House passing their health care bill (which died in the Senate) and the tax cut that Trump gladly signed into law.

Meadows, 59, has also pushed the narrative of the FBI trying to prevent Trump from being elected ― an interesting theory, considering the agency’s role in derailing Hillary Clinton’s bid while concealing its investigation of Russian ties to the Trump campaign during the election season. He also has been a leader in the effort to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein ― a move seen as, at least, a shot across the bow for the Mueller investigation and, at worst, the first step in Trump halting the probe.

Meadows’s closest friend in Congress, Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), could also make the list, but Trump’s more regular contact with Meadows gives him the nod. 

Speaker Paul Ryan (Wisconsin)

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A seemingly contrarian pick ― given the prickly relationship between Ryan and the president that dates back to the ’16 campaign and has continued into the Trump presidency.

But the truth is that Ryan has done as much as any lawmaker to normalize and enable Trump. While Ryan, 48, swears he stands up to Trump in private, the speaker publicly supports the president and routinely minimalizes Trump’s scandals.

The entrenched perception of Ryan as a traditional Republican ― someone whose main goals included reducing the now-burgeoning federal budget deficit ― has only more deeply reinforced the lesson that Republicans can, and must, get behind this president. Ryan knew Trump wasn’t suited to be president. Everyone knew Ryan knew. And yet he still has worked with him ― and he’s stayed with him.

That will always be Paul Ryan’s legacy.

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