Sometimes, people are so deep in their bullshit they can’t be retrieved with a tow strap and a Ford F-450.
So it is with the Republican members of the United States Senate. I’ve exhausted all my previous analytical tools in trying to explain the power Donald Trump has over them, but the last few days of this crisis have been a hell of a lesson in how supine and cowardly they’ve become.
Trump’s pronunciamientos over the desirability of bleach, disinfectants, and UV light as treatments for COVID-19, his lies about testing, and his shitter-tweeted rage fits at the “Noble Prize” media? All greeted with a wall of silence from Republican senators, even as their grip on power weakens each time Trump humiliates himself and endangers the American people.
The Senate is composed of men and women who fit on the typical bell curve. There are some very bright people in that caucus, and some who are, to put it mildly, not the sharpest tools in Mitch McConnell’s toolbox. As a rule, however, these members have at least a few staffers and advisers who fall on the right side of the intelligence curve. Stupidity is no excuse.
As I and others predicted, people across the country took Trump’s “sarcastic” word-vomit about bleach and light literally and seriously, and we’ve seen the concomitant rise in calls to poison-control centers.
And yet, the Senate Republicans who are at least ostensibly representatives of the people in their states have said nothing, accepting the idea that the gullible, Facebook-addicted Trumpnotized political zombies in his movement are going to die either fast or slow.
Fast, if they take Dr. Don’s pine-scented COVID cure—“It’s a floor cleaner and a treatment for novel coronavirus!”—or slowly by blowing up social distancing, rubbing elbows at astroturf Trump rallies, and then getting the virus.
Very few Senate Republicans are stupid enough actually to believe the Fox bubble bullshit machine. The rest understand the state of the crisis and the stakes. They just don’t seem to care, so long as those deaths are slow enough that they don’t get in the way of November.
They know it wasn’t sarcasm.
They know it hurt Trump badly.
They know it’s hurting them politically, as polls and fundraising lag in the key states the GOP must defend both in the presidential contest and the U.S. Senate races.
The most bizarre element is their willingness to die for Trump, electorally for now, but you never know when he’s going to demand they strap on a political bomb vest and become martyrs for MAGA.
What to do? Like clockwork, they’re desperate to change the subject to China. Can’t defend the president? Why, let’s call up the old Yellow Peril playbook and blame the Chinese! We’re just days away from some Senate yahoo calling them “inscrutable celestials.” China’s got plenty to account for in this crisis, but the Senate Republicans’ profoundly cynical pivot was doomed to fail from the jump.
They’re using an old playbook that worked for generations, but in the era of social media, YouTube, the unblinking eye of a public very much paying attention to a plague taking the lives of 2,000 Americans a day, this kind of shenanigan is unlikely to work.
Not that they aren’t trying. Republican message strategist Brett O’Donnell has created a memo for the Republican Caucus to use in their desperate, doomed efforts to escape from the blast radius of Donald Trump’s abject failure to address the coronavirus promptly and effectively.
Brett is an occasionally crafty writer, but a pedestrian thinker. The War on China memo outlines a blame-game that looks as if it’s an attack on China, but is in reality a weak defense of Trump. What this memo exposes, giving the game away early on, is the GOP’s cowardice toward and compliance with Trump.
Q: Isn’t this Trump’s fault?
Note - don’t defend Trump, other than the China Travel Ban — attack China
Of course, the Trump campaign lost its shit immediately upon seeing that line and promptly threatened any Republican senator who didn’t defend President Indefensible.
No matter what he does, the GOP caucus in the Senate can’t shake their passivity and fear. They can’t take the simplest steps to put daylight between themselves and Trump. Even those senators who know how toxic his leadership in their home states has become, they either believe Mitch McConnell will make the money printer go brrrrrr and buy them out of this mess, or that the risks of losing his base are too great.
There is no escape for the all-in Party of Trump. The GOP leaders, McConnell in particular, know that shit rolls downhill in politics and that they’ll end up taking the blame for Trump’s ineptitude and failures. In 1974, not every Republican was a Nixon cheerleader and not one of them was “pro-Watergate” (if such a thing could exist), but 49 of them lost their seats.
When the Democrats lost Congress in 1994, not every member was a part of the House Bank and Post Office Scandal—but they all took the heat. In 2006, Abramoff, Katrina, and the Iraq War blew out the GOP even though few of them took his money, none of them liked the handling of Katrina, and by then, the GOP caucus itself was fractured on Iraq. Democrats in 2010 were swept under by a populist rejection—a point now richly ironic, given how popular Trump has made Obamacare—of the then-president’s health-care plan.
If Republican senators dared to stand up early in this process and bring political pressure on the Trump White House as representatives of their respective states, which is, as you might recall, their job, we’d be in a much different place right now.
We wouldn’t be staring down the barrel of a death count that has passed the number of men killed in Vietnam. That 58,000 number wasn’t spread out over a decade. It was in the space of six weeks. The Senate has—well, had—power. The Senate could move the arc of history. The Senate holds in its hand the few things Trump wants and needs to keep his base in line—judges, tax cuts—but has failed over and over again to use it.
McConnell is the most talented majority leader in a generation. He has complete control of his caucus and understands and exploits their weaknesses, ambitions, and desires. In an impeachment trial where his members knew Trump’s guilt was absolute and unequivocal, he bribed and browbeat them into submission.
I’ve written about this before, but the sad truth is this: There are only a handful of Trump true believers in the Senate. The rest are chugging a toxic slurry of cowardice, ambition, and opportunism that has led members of the upper house of a co-equal branch of government to relinquish their power and prerogatives.
Every day, Trump wraps a few more lengths of anchor chain around their necks. Every day, they either sit silently or engage in juvenile and pointless Trump-flavored attacks on phantom enemies and issues, all in fevered desperation to avoid looking at the death and destruction wrought by this president.
Sure, some are just ambitious—your Tom Cotton, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz types all firmly believe they will be the president to follow Donald Trump. Some are so psychologically broken and addicted to power—looking at you, Lindsey—that they’ll abase themselves in the most elaborate ways to remain in Trump’s good graces.
Fear, denial, opportunism, and nihilism have combined to produce a group of men and women who know the meteor is coming but want one more party at the end of it all. They’ll do anything to avoid facing the real crisis when there’s even the slightest possibility of upsetting Trump.
Like dinosaurs staring mutely at the fiery spot in the sky that would mark the end of the Cretaceous era and their lives, the Senate Republicans are peering into the dark, watching Trump’s mistakes and madness draw ever closer. Extinction isn’t pretty, especially when you know it’s coming and do nothing about it.
Listen to Molly Jong-Fast and Rick Wilson’s podcast, The New Abnormal, on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.