President Donald Trump had a working lunch with al; the Republican members of the Senate on Tuesday, and oh how we would have loved to have been there. Trump always goes over well with adoring audiences of the true-blue fans clad in red “Make America Great Again” ball caps, but tends to lash out at critics, so all the Republican members of the Senate made for an intriguingly mixed crowd.
Most of the Senators were willing to laugh at Trump’s jokes and indulge his boasts, even if they wouldn’t go so far as to join in the usual rally cries of “build that wall” and “lock her up,” and all were probably eager to hear his support for their mostly agreed-upon tax-cutting plans, which was the stated reason for the lunch. The president had just renewed his recent war of words with Tennessee’s Sen. Bob Corker, though, and Arizona’s Sen. Jeff Flake was about to take the Senate floor with a blistering denunciation of Trump’s rhetoric, which shortly followed Arizona Sen. John McCain’s scathing remarks to a documentarian about the bone spurs that had spared Trump service in the Vietnam War, along with other intra-party acrimony. Trump’s audience also included Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins, Nebraska’s Sen. Ben Sasse, and majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, all of whom the president has also been publicly insulting lately, which is a big chunk of the Republican party’s oh-so-slight 52 members in the 100-seat Senate.
The lunch was off limits to the press, but the reporters gathered outside did get a few quotes from departing members about what Trump said. Second-ranking Republican Sen. John Cornyn said “It wasn’t a whole lot about taxes. It was about the late nine months and the success in terms of the regulatory environment, consumer confidence, the stock market, and also the need to get work done.” Given Trump’s aversion penchant for taking credit for anything people might like and his aversion to specific policy details, along with Cronyn’s generally reliable reputation for honesty, we don’t doubt a single word of it. Nobody mentioned any insults, though, and we assume the food was delicious, so the lunch seems to have gone well enough for the Trump.
It was nonetheless a tough day for Trump, though, as his Republican critics got in some pretty good shots, and the Democratic media passed them all along to their audiences with a strange new respect. Corker had once been a reluctant Trump supporter but criticized the president for praising the “good people on both sides” of a white supremacist rally in Virginia that killed a counter-protestor, questioning Trump’s temperament and stability, Trump responded with “tweets” calling him “Liddle” Bob Corker and quite falsely accusing the Senator of being for the Iranian nuclear deal he had in fact aggressively opposed, a claim the president was still “tweeting” on Tuesday, when Corker was telling the press that “I’ve seen no evolution in an upward way. In fact, it seems to be devolving.”
Flake never endorsed Trump’s candidacy nor his presidency, and wrote a book titled “Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle” that was clearly a anti-Trump statement, so of course he was dubbed “Flake Jeff Flake” by Trump in the ensuing “tweeted” counter-punches. When he took to the Senate floor on Tuesday Flake never mentioned Trump by name, but his warning that “We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country — the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions; the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons,” was understood even by Trump to be talking about Trump. The president can “tweet” any insults back at “Flake” that he wants, but they only bolster Flake’s case.
Flake might have been emboldened by his state’s senior Republican senator and failed Republican presidential nominee’s longstanding feud with the Trump, who infamously scoffed at McCain’s heroic decision to endure extra years of torture in a North Vietnamese prison rather than desert the prisoners he commanded by saying “he’s only a hero because he got caught. I like a guy who didn’t get, Okay?” McCain’s comment about how Trump had avoided the war altogether because of business school deferments and a bone spur injury that somehow has never hindered his golf career also scored points, also scored some points. Arizona was once the home of failed Republican presidential nominee Sen. Barry Goldwater, who wrote the original “Conscience of a Conservative” and was among the Republicans who counseled President Richard Nixon to resign, and we guess that bolstered Flake as well.
Previous Republican President George W. Bush has also recently weighed in with a denunciation of Trump that never mentioned him by name, and along with senators Murkowski and Collins and Sasse and the majority leader we’re sure there are other Republicans in the Senate and House and down here at our grassroots level who share the same exasperation. Many of those Senators who actually would be willing to don the “MAGA” ball caps and chant the “lock her up” and “build that wall” slogans would probably be willing to shift to whatever side where the favorable winds are blowing, too, and for now the Republican party is a tough crowd.
Bush is term-limited out of public office, Corker had already announced he wouldn’t seek re-election and Flake made the same announcement to his state’s biggest newspaper just 15 minutes before that blistering speech, McCain is too old to seek re-election even if he wasn’t battling brain cancer, and the rest of those Republicans have their own reasons of principle of local politics for taking their stands against Trump’s bullying behavior. Trump has plenty of anti-establishment supporters and some well-heeled donors to drive their likes from the party, meanwhile, and although some of the candidates they’re coming up with are kooky enough lose elections even in reliably Republican states there’s a chance he’ll at least wind up with control of the once Grand Old Party.
Which will at least satisfy Trump and his supporters to the extent that it annoys both the Democrats and the equally-hated Republicans establishment, but it doesn’t seem likely to result in any legislative victories. Flake and Corker have both been reliable votes for the most cherished objectives of the Republican party, even if they’re seemingly wimpish in insulting the opposition, and for most part so have the rest of the dissidents, and the anti-establishment alternatives seem more interested in feuding with whatever establishment survives rather than finding long sought solutions, even if they do somehow get elected. The Republican party might just be passing its most cherished bills with the majorities they have in the Senate and House, and in most cases we think the president would be signing it, if not for the take-no-prisoners brand of politics that fuddy-duddy establishments have bravely decried.
— Bud Norman