This piece will be appearing this week as an op/ed in newspapers in my very red congressional district (VA-06)
Like the clue that unravels a mystery, here’s a revelatory fact: the two Republicans who have lately sent important messages to the American people are both highly respected men who don’t expect to face their voters again.
The two Republicans are Senators Bob Corker and John McCain. They have felt freed to speak freely —Corker because he has chosen not to run for election (maybe so that he could speak freely); and McCain not only because he would be 86 next time he’d have to run (in 2022) but also because his recently diagnosed brain cancer makes it unlikely he’ll live that long.
We have good reason to believe that many other Republicans in Congress know what Corker and McCain know. But, from the fact that they don’t speak up, we can reasonably infer their silence is because they want to be re-elected. They don’t want to alienate the Republican base by speaking truths that the voters they will need don’t want to hear.
The essence of Corker’s message is that President Trump represents a serious threat to America. He has lately told us that in several ways.
He has said that three men – Secretary of Defense Mattis, Secretary of State Tillerson, and Chief of Staff Kelley – are standing between “our country and chaos.” Corker, who is Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and who has a history of speaking carefully, has issued a stunning warning: Trump’s reckless threats toward other countries, he fears, could set the nation “on the path to World War III.”
Corker’s tweet about the White House being an “adult day care center” calls attention to the ever-increasing reports about what life is like around this President: “I know for a fact,” Corker has said, “that every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him.”
That Trump’s being our commander-in-chief poses a threat to the nation, Corker has made clear, is recognized by many other Republicans in Congress. But these other Republicans only express their fears privately, because they depend on the support of voters who would punish any politician who warned them against the President they still believe will “make America great again.”
The head of the “Freedom Caucus” in the House, Republican Mark Meadows of North Carolina, unintentionally gave the game away when he said of Corker: “”It’s easy to be bold when you’re not coming back.”
All of which exposes what’s wrong both with the Republican base and with the Republicans in Congress. The problem with the base is that they can look at a serious threat to the nation – an impulsive, belligerent, erratic, ignorant and self-centered President – and like what they see. The problem with the Republicans in the Congress is that, despite recognizing the danger from this President, they are choosing to protect their own political future instead of the nation.
John McCain has also been critical of Trump. But Senator McCain’s most dramatic and powerful moment involved not the threat to the nation from Trump, but rather a terrible bill that would have injured millions of American families in order to give hundreds of billions of dollars to the Republican donor class.
McCain’s message was delivered less in words than in his famous “Thumbs Down” gesture by which he killed that fiasco of the “Trumpcare” bill. With that gesture, McCain called attention to a darkness in the soul of today’s Republican Party. It thwarted a Party that not only sought to sacrifice the people to serve Big Money, but also trampled on the norms of how we Americans are supposed to conduct our politics.
Although much of the Republican base might condemn McCain’s “Thumbs Down,” it is safe to assume McCain – war hero, son and grandson of Admirals in the U.S. Navy – acted out of patriotism. And as John McCain confronts his mortality, his thoughts are likely not about his own political advancement but about his legacy, about how he will look in the eyes of history.
McCain is surely not the only one who saw that Trumpcare bill for the atrocity that it was. Nonetheless, hardly any of the Republicans in Congress expressed outrage at this selling out of millions of Americans in order to give hundreds of billions of dollars to serve the Money Power whose instrument their Party has become.
The fact that it is those Republicans who will not face their voters again who are acting the role of patriots – putting the nation ahead of their Party – is the clue that brings into focus the dangerous political situation in America today:
Our nation is endangered by this regrettable combination: a Republican base that continues to support a president and a Party that threaten the nation’s well-being; and the Republicans in Congress who, out of fear of that base and out of their own moral cowardice and political opportunism, are putting considerations of party and power ahead of the good of the America and its people.
Andy Schmookler – award-winning author and former candidate for Congress in VA-06 – is writing a series titled “A Better Human Story,” which can be found at http://abetterhumanstory.org/.