It's time to retire the phrase "Washington's never seen anything like this before." Not because it's not true, but because it happens so often under the Trump presidency that it's lost all meaning.
Yet, one last time, I can't resist. Washington's never seen anything like this before. In one week, four leading Republicans broke ranks with the president of the United States, a member of their own party.
Even more significantly, George W. Bush, John McCain, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake did not simply break with their president over a matter of public policy. That's happened before. They raised more fundamental questions about Donald Trump's character, competence, fitness to be president and the danger he poses to our democracy.
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Without mentioning him by name, Sen. John McCain was the first to express alarm. Accepting the National Constitution Center's Liberty Medal award on Oct. 17, McCain lamented the complete reversal of America's leadership of the free world under Trump.
"To abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe," McCain warned, "to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain 'the last best hope of earth' for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history."
President Bush was the next to pile on. Again, he didn't mention Donald Trump by name. He didn't have to. In his Oct. 19 address to the George W. Bush Institute in New York, Bush summed up the hallmarks of Trump's America: "Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication. … We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together."
But it was two Republican senators who landed the most direct blows. Tennessee's Bob Corker, who earlier complained that the White House had become an "adult day care center," condemned Trump's "constant non-truth telling and name-calling." When it's all over, Corker told ABC, "… the worst of it is going to be the whole debasing of our nation. I think that will be the contribution that hurts our nation most."
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That same day, in announcing his surprise decision not to seek re-election, Arizona's Jeff Flake bemoaned the "alarming and dangerous state of affairs," the "flagrant disregard for truth or decency," and the "regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms." And he left no doubt who's responsible: "When such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else: It is dangerous to a democracy."
For all those concerned about what Trumpism is doing to this country, that's the good news: Four senior Republicans put principle above party and stood up against Donald Trump. Four profiles in courage. But here's the bad news: There are only four of them. One's long out of office, one's fighting brain cancer, and the other two are leaving the Senate. The other 49 Republican senators prefer to remain silent, even though many of them privately agree with Corker and Flake.
Why? Besides a general lack of backbone, two reasons. One, tax cuts. That's what Republicans care most about: tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest of Americans. After not delivering one major piece of legislation so far, they need a win before the end of the year. They know Donald Trump will sign any tax cut bill they put on his desk. So they're willing to put up with any of his obnoxious, reckless and dangerous behavior. They're willing to sell their souls in order to get those tax cuts for their fat-cat friends.
Second reason, pure fear. According to the latest Fox News poll, while Donald Trump's approval rating hit a new low of 38 percent, he still enjoys the support of 83 percent of Republicans. For incumbent Republicans, that means they either support Trump or face a serious primary challenge. And, unlike Jeff Flake, they'd rather save their political backsides than save the nation from disgrace.
Indeed, for all Republicans, this is a moment of truth. After 10 months, it's time for them to make a choice: to stand with America as we know and love it, or to stand with Donald Trump, who would destroy it all. Unfortunately, it seems, most Republicans have already made their choice. The party of Lincoln is now the party of Trump.