Jeff Flake and Bob Corker have both had enough!
Separate screeds from the Arizona and Tennessee Republican senators about President Donald Trump represent a remarkable upbraiding of their party’s leader and the nation by two men who would rather retire from the US Senate than endure a primary in Trump’s America. Flake’s Senate floor speech, in particular, was notable for its eloquence and its urgency.
But don’t hold your breath for THIS to be a turning point and a flood of Republicans to join forces against their President. The day may come when Republicans revolt en masse against him, but there’s nothing to suggest it will be today. For starters, both Flake and Corker are on their way out of office, not into it.
And don’t forget that Trump’s unlikely road from reality TV to the White House is lined with the political skeletons of eminent Republicans urgently sounding the alarm.
Flake’s dramatic speech Tuesday feels like the capstone — for now — on top of these multiple dramatic moments (many of which feature people who now work for Trump, wanted to work for him or are working with him on Capitol Hill).
The below list is in no way exhaustive but is just to illustrate that Republicans have been using desperate language about the future of the country to warn themselves about Trump for, literally, years now.
Rick Perry — July 2015
The canary in the coal mine — among the first Republicans to take Trump seriously and also to warn against the effect he would have on the party — might be Rick Perry, who more than two years ago was launching his own, ultimately doomed, bid for the GOP presidential nomination.
He dubbed Trump’s outlook “Trumpism” and called it a “cancer on conservatism.”
Here are some other excerpts from CNN’s report way back in July 2015.
“I will not go quiet when this cancer on conservatism threatens to metastasize into a movement of mean-spirited politics that will send the Republican Party to the same place it sent the Whig Party in 1854: the graveyard.”
“It cannot be pacified or ignored, for it will destroy a set of principles that has lifted more people out of poverty than any force in the history of the civilized world — the cause of conservatism.”
“My fellow Republicans, beware of false prophets. Do not let itching ears be tickled by messengers who appeal to anger, division and resentment.”
What’s Perry up to now? He’s Trump’s secretary of energy.
We can leave it at Perry, but nearly all of the Republican presidential candidates had a similar moment, predicting impending doom. Some eventually got on board with his campaign, like Chris Christie, and some did not, like Jeb Bush.
The National Review — January 2016
The vaunted conservative publication swung against Trump during the GOP primary, warning that he was not conservative and picking apart what it could glean about his policy proposals.
“Some conservatives have made it their business to make excuses for Trump and duly get pats on the head from him. Count us out. Donald Trump is a menace to American conservatism who would take the work of generations and trample it underfoot on behalf of a populism as heedless and crude as the Donald himself.”
Marco Rubio — February 2016
The Florida senator waited until February to unload. At the time a Republican presidential primary rival, Rubio called Trump a “con artist” during an interview on CBS after calling him out face-to-face during a CNN debate the night before.
“This is the most important government job on the planet. And we’re about to turn over the conservative movement to a person that has no ideas of any substance on the important issues.”
“The nuclear codes of the United States — to an erratic individual — and the conservative movement — to someone who has spent a career sticking it to working people.”
Mitt Romney — March 2016
Mitt Romney issued the most damning indictment of Trump during the presidential campaign. He made a public statement specifically to issue a cry to Republicans to stop Trump and sabotage his campaign by voting tactically among the remaining people in the field. (That didn’t stop him from showing willingness to work in a Trump administration.)
“Here’s what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.”
“He’s playing the members of the American public for suckers. He gets a free ride to the White House, and all we get is a lousy hat.”
“His domestic policies would lead to recession. His foreign policies would make America and the world less safe. He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president, and his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.”
Ted Cruz — May 2016
In the waning moments of the GOP nominating contest, Sen. Ted Cruz, Trump’s last real foe, finally had his own moment to unload. It was just before the decisive Indiana primary, and as the growing personal feud between the men festered, Cruz spoke as Indiana primary voters headed to cast their ballots. Trump won that contest.
“This man is a pathological liar, he doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies … in a pattern that is straight out of a psychology textbook, he accuses everyone of lying.”
“Whatever lie he’s telling, at that minute he believes it … the man is utterly amoral … Donald is a bully … bullies don’t come from strength, they come from weakness.”
Cruz hasn’t exactly rejected the White House since Inauguration Day.
After Trump secured the nomination, the warnings died down a bit. There was a cadre of #NeverTrump Republicans who opposed him through Election Day.
Trump, as we know, won anyway, even after many mainstream Republicans condemned his treatment of women after the “Access Hollywood” tape was released and a number of women accused him of past inappropriate behavior.
But Republicans who had opposed Trump had to come to terms with the fact that these warnings had not been heeded by their voters. People like Corker said they’d try to work with him. That didn’t last for Corker, who this week came out blazing against Trump, but for most Republicans on Capitol Hill, they’ll need Trump to sign on to any legislation they might be able to pass if they want it to become law. They essentially have to work with him.
Swipes at the President since inauguration
That does not mean they have a normal working relationship with him. Criticisms have flowed more freely at Trump by members of his own party than they have at other new presidents. In particular, when he inflamed racial tensions by saying “both sides” were at fault for violence surrounding a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, it drew the condemnation of many Republicans, including some officeholders.
Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse has been vocally out against Trump specifically over his tweets about cable news reporters. “This isn’t normal,” Sasse told him on social media. Jeb Bush has, essentially, said he predicted Trump’s chaos as his overall approval ratings have sunk to historic lows for someone at this point in the first term of their presidency. His brother, former President George W. Bush, slammed Trumpism last week without mentioning Trump by name.
John Kasich, a primary rival of Trump’s who has managed to remained popular in his home state of Ohio despite not endorsing the President, has suggested he’d leave the GOP if it can’t be fixed and move away from the anti-trade, anti-immigrant sentiments that Trump rode into office.
Sen. John McCain, who opposed his party’s efforts to repeal Obamacare because of the way they were formulated, has argued passionately for a return to regular order. Separately, he warned against a “spurious nationalism” like the one Trump pushes.
Here’s McCain, who did not mention Trump by name, speaking October 16, when he received the National Constitution Center’s Liberty Medal:
“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, 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.”
That’s rough stuff from McCain and quite clearly a warning about Trump and Trumpism. But as you pick back over the past couple of years, it wasn’t exactly new. None of these recent comments from people like Flake or Corker are likely to be the last.