It is widely recognized that yesterday’s election results — in Virginia, and elsewhere — represent a powerful repudiation of Donald Trump’s presidency. Perhaps a bit less obvious is how these results can impact the ongoing battle to protect this nation from this unfit, dangerous President.
The Republicans in Congress are going to have to recalculate their own political interests. And this can prove a game-changer. To wit:
For the next 14 months at least — plenty of time for Trump to continue to be a wrecking ball in the American democracy, and perhaps even to lead us into a catastrophe — the only available means of curtailing this presidency lie in the hands of a Congress controlled by the Republicans.
We know from Senators Corker and Flake that a great many of the Republicans in Congress recognize the unfitness of this President, and the dangers he poses to the nation. But those Republicans nonetheless choose to protect the President rather than the nation. And they do so because they put their own political ambition ahead of their oath of office.
The Republicans know that going against Trump would threaten their political future: opposing Trump might very well get them primaried from the right– and defeated because a substantial majority of the Republican base still approves of Trump.
Republicans have worried more about being knocked out in such primaries — by right-wingers appealing to Trump supporters — than about being defeated in the general election by Democrats. (That’s especially true in the House, where Districts have been gerrymandered into “safe seats.”)
But now come the results of last night (perhaps especially the astonishing Democratic success in turning seats in the Virginia House of Delegates from red to blue).
Now the Republicans are compelled to see how dangerous it is to focus only on protecting themselves from the right. It is still true that their careers might be killed off by the Republican base. But now it is clear that they can lose their seats at the hands of a general electorate disgusted by the President they have been protecting, and eager to punish all those they see as connected to him.
Protecting Trump no longer looks like the safe path.
We have no reason to believe that these Republicans will do the patriotic thing for honorable reasons. But it is still an improvement if they do the right thing for the wrong reasons. And last night kindled in many a Republican office-holder a fear of the anti-Trump vote. And the more they fear that vote, the more the path will open to dealing with the national crisis this President represents.
[This consequence of last night’s elections also opens up the door to a more aggressive Democratic strategy. In the next piece here, I will articulate what I think the Democrats in Congress should be doing. A hint from the (working) title: “Time for the Democrats to Take It to the Republicans Over Trump.”]