Lost in the latest news cycle of Trumpian outrages and insanity was a move by House and Senate Republicans last week to block any inquiries into Donald Trump and his gang’s web of ties to Russia. This despite the fact that the candidate’s financial entanglements and Putinite sympathies could negatively impact foreign policy and national security should he become president. So are these the people we’re supposed to count on to keep a President Donald Trump from blowing up the world?
When they’re not tripping over their own tongues deciding whether Trump is or is not a good role model, Republicans keep insisting that if voters keep them in charge of both houses of Congress, they will rein in their preferred commander in chief. Indeed, the prerogatives of the first branch of government, the legislative, were designed to keep a president’s power in check (or to obstruct him to the point of absurdity, in the case of Barack Obama.)
But these Republicans, who back Trump no matter how outrageous or temperamental or seemingly unstable he becomes, cannot possibly be counted on to stand in his way if he wins in November.
Which of the lot should we trust to stop a President Trump—Secretary of State John Bolton or Defense Secretary Michael Flynn—from pursuing his more excessive desires: whether weakening our bond with NATO or recognizing Putin’s annexation of Crimea? The same Republicans who are preventing Democrats from holding a single hearing on Trump’s Russia ties?
Who in the GOP would complain if Trump federalizes “stop and frisk” or encourages its proliferation in states using the power of the Justice Department purse? Who would step forward if the White House sends a bill to the House and Senate repealing decades of jurisprudence to allow reporters to be sued over stories the Trump family doesn’t like? Will the Hill rise up to demand that Attorney General Chris Christie or FBI director Rudy Giuliani stand down?
What stalwart Republican would stop Trump from profiteering for his businesses from the White House the way he’s gamed his companies and the tax code for decades, or prevent him from letting his adult children milk their father’s position to benefit his supposed “blind trust”? Who would hold committee hearings or empanel a select committee if Trump solicited donations to his personal piggy bank from a foundation from his Russian pals or other foreign entities eager to make a buck off of President Donald J. Trump, Inc.? Is Trey Gowdy going to take a break from re-investigating Hillary Clinton’s emails to get on the case?
Do we put our faith in Speaker Paul Ryan, who, despite calling Trump’s attack on Judge Gonzalo Curiel full-on racist, continues to dutifully support him for president, to the point of personal humiliation? Would he refuse to bring Trump’s Muslim ban legislation to the House floor for a vote? Would John McCain, whose heroism was trashed by Trump and who can barely spit out the candidate’s name on the campaign trail but has dutifully lined up behind him anyway, be the champion of the American values his president would butcher in favor of the Putinite cult of personality he craves? Would McCain speak out if, say, President Trump sicked the IRS on Judge Curiel, or on New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, to intimidate their investigations away? What about if President Trump re-implemented Dick Cheney’s torture program? Would the Senator break his silence then?
What of Marco Rubio, who went from Trump ridiculer to Trump bootlick as fast as his nakedly ambitious feet could carry him? Would he vote to stop President Trump from unleashing mass deportations on the DREAMers who have come forward, risking exposure under the protection of President Obama’s executive orders, which Trump would presumably repeal?
Or Ted Cruz, who traded his stated principles, along with the defense of his own wife and father, for a vow to help elect the man who derided them. Is he the one who would stop President Trump from confiscating remittances from Mexican-Americans to “force” Mexico to pay for his southern Berlin wall?
While the Senate and House races have become an afterthought in the battle royal for the White House, the fact is, Republicans would have no incentive to stop a President Trump from doing his worst. Zero. None. That they have lined up grimly behind him, despite all that he has said and done, demonstrates that they would be too afraid, and too servile, to stand up to him even if such incentives existed. And unlike with George W. Bush, they wouldn’t even need a terrorist attack to make them fall in line.
That’s because as president, Trump would surely give Republicans nearly everything they want. Despite his populist pretensions, he has absorbed all of the long-held economic goals of the Republican elite: massive tax cuts for the super rich, deregulation, expansion of fossil fuel extraction, and the repeal of the estate tax. Two of which would benefit him personally, as is his bedrock operating principle. Trump’s economic plan, such as it is, was written by establishment, Calvin Coolidge-nostalgics like Stephen Moore and Larry Kudlow. It’s actually a wonder the Koch brothers aren’t supporting him, too.
Trump’s more outré economic ideas, like repealing trade bills and implementing a massive surcharge on imports, would seem like non-starters in a Republican-led House and Senate, except when you consider a second point as a kind of syllogism: Republicans fear their angry, white electorate. Their angry, white electorate chose Donald Trump. Therefore, Republicans are likely to do whatever President Trump wants, regardless of how insane it is, for fear that his angry, white supporters, who now form the core of the Republican base, will turn on them.
If the Trump economy melts down, Republicans would simply blame Democrats, or Barack Obama, or the wrath of God (or more to the point, trans restroom users and wedding-insistent gays triggering the wrath of God.) But they would never, in this universe or a Marvel alternative, blame the Republican president, and risk killing themselves in the 2018 midterms.
Meanwhile, Republicans would have their eyes on 2020, when a Trump reelect or a Romney, Rubio or Ryan second try would come with a new U.S. Census, with the prospect of giving Republicans control over redistricting, state houses, and Congress for a decade.
Donald Trump has surrounded himself with sycophants who are willing to repeat every absurd line he demands of them: he’s a tax-dodge genius! That Latina Miss Universe brought it on herself (and so did Hillary!) The most supine among them, like Christie and Giuliani, clearly hope to be rewarded with jobs in a Trump administration.
But if Trump is elected, every Republican in Washington, and at the state level across the country, would be incentivized to do only one thing when the Dear Leader in the White House calls the tune: They will dance. It’s what they do.