Republicans show signs of discomfort in defense of Trump  

Republicans, even as they generally show support for President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Trump expands tariffs on steel and aluminum imports CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group MORE, are showing signs of discomfort amid an impeachment fight that has engulfed the country. 

The battle over Trump's actions toward Ukraine marks the biggest test to date for Republicans, who are juggling the president’s demand for loyalty with questions about his push for a foreign government to investigate a political rival.

While the party has largely rallied behind him against the Democrats' impeachment push, there are some signs of cracks just days into the scandal that is likely to dominate the rest of 2019.

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The strongest criticism, unsurprisingly, is coming from a cohort of GOP pundits, 2020 rivals and Republican governors, who have less to lose than their congressional counterparts by going toe-to-toe with Trump. 

Former Illinois Rep. Joe WalshJoe WalshRepublican group calls for 'President Pence' amid impeachment trial Walsh plans protest at RNC headquarters over 'nakedly anti-Democratic' primary cancellations Pelosi announced as lead guest on season premiere of 'Real Time with Bill Maher' MORE, who is running against Trump for the GOP’s 2020 nomination, told CNN on Friday that it was “quite literally like he’s giving his middle finger to the American people.” Former Massachusetts Gov. William WeldWilliam (Bill) WeldRepublican group calls for 'President Pence' amid impeachment trial Weld says Trump wants reporters to 'roam free' in Iran, but not US Trump primary challengers left off Wisconsin ballot MORE, another GOP hopeful, said Trump’s actions on Ukraine were “grounds for removal from office.” 

A slew of pundits — including The New York Times’s David Brooks and Bill Kristol, a prominent Trump critic — have admonished Trump. And two Republican governors — Vermont Gov. Phil Scott and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker — have thrown their support behind an impeachment inquiry.

Baker called the allegations against Trump a “deeply disturbing situation” and said it was “the proper role and responsibility for Congress at this point is to investigate it.” 

Trump and the White House can probably shrug off such criticisms, saying they are coming from opportunists, fringe candidates or Republicans representing blue states. 

But some of the other more measured remarks about the unfolding Ukraine story that are coming from Republican lawmakers may be getting their attention. 

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneNo. 2 GOP leader eyes Wednesday of next week for possible votes on witnesses Restlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on Republicans take aim at Nadler for saying GOP senators complicit in 'cover-up' MORE (R-S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters when asked about Trump pressing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to help dig up dirt on his potential 2020 opponent that he didn’t “like seeing that.”

“I just think the idea of a conversation like that,” he said. “I know this president operates in different ways ... but you know, obviously, like I said before, it's not something I would bring up. But at least the suggestion about what was proposed there … is still not some place I would go.” 

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyOvernight Defense: Veterans group seeks Trump apology for comments on brain injuries | Pentagon says dozens of troops suffered traumatic injuries after attack | Trump unveils Space Force logo Lindsey Graham will oppose subpoena of Hunter Biden Senators push Pentagon on Syria strategy after withdrawal uproar, Soleimani strike MORE (R-Utah), the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, called Trump’s actions "troubling," Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment Nadler calls Trump a 'dictator' on Senate floor MORE (R-Alaska) said the phone call was "very concerning," and Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseCommerce Department withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon pushback: reports  The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems to present case on abuse of power on trial's third day Restlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on MORE (R-Neb.), after viewing the whistleblower complaint, warned Republicans against "rushing to circle the wagons to say there's no there there when there's obviously lots that's very troubling there."

In the House, Rep. Mark AmodeiMark Eugene AmodeiBillboards calling on House Republicans to 'do their job' follow members home for Thanksgiving Trump's defenders are running out of options Avoiding the snake in the grass: Let's not allow impeachment to divide us MORE (R-Nev.) on Friday became the first House Republican to support an impeachment inquiry, though he made it clear he does not back impeachment itself.

Rep. Mike TurnerMichael Ray TurnerCNN analyst says GOP lawmaker 'mansplained' to her on-air Meadows says Republican colleagues 'wrong' for suggesting Trump's phone call was inappropriate Republicans preview impeachment defense strategy MORE (R-Ohio) used a public hearing to knock the Democrats for moving forward with impeachment but also called out Trump during the wall-to-wall coverage. 

“I want to say to the president this is not OK. That conversation is not OK. And I think it's disappointing to the American public when they read the transcript,” he said while acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph MaguireJoseph MaguireThe Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial Schiff schedules public hearing with US intel chief  Democrats request briefing on intel behind Trump's embassy threat claim MORE was testifying before the House Intelligence Committee. 

After The Washington Post reported that Trump said the whistleblower was “close to a spy,” GOP Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Schiff closes Democrats' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment MORE (Maine), who has refrained from commenting on impeachment, pushed back on the president’s comments, calling them a “gross mischaracterization of whistleblowers.” 

Even as Trump has dismissed the whistleblower complaint as a "witch hunt" and referred to his call with Zelensky as "perfect," the Senate unanimously passed a resolution asking for him to turn the complaint over, and the GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee has already started its own investigation. 

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Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntDemocrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment Trump team to present case for about two hours on Saturday GOP warns of 'drawn out' executive privilege battle over Bolton testimony  MORE (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership and the committee, said after briefings with Maguire and the intelligence community's inspector general that he was “not ready to make any conclusions.” 

“We're committed to gather the information before we reach conclusions. Other people who don't have this responsibility can reach conclusions right away,” he said, adding that he wanted and expected the committee to meet with the whistleblower. 

The signs of GOP wariness about aligning too closely with Trump come even as most Republicans have pivoted quickly to argue that House Democrats are overplaying their hand by starting the formal impeachment proceedings, questioned the validity of the whistleblower behind the complaint, or even floated investigating former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSchiff closes Democrats' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump Conservative reporter on Sanders: He's not a 'yes man' Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment MORE or his son Hunter Biden. 

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGraham vows Biden, Ukraine probe after impeachment trial GOP warns of 'drawn out' executive privilege battle over Bolton testimony  Senate Republicans confident they'll win fight on witnesses MORE (R-Wis.) called the partial transcript a “nothing burger,” Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottDemocrats worry Trump team will cherry-pick withheld documents during defense What to watch for on day 4 of the Senate impeachment trial GOP cries boredom in attack on impeachment case MORE (R-S.C.) suggested the whistleblower complaint was “hearsay” and Sen. John CornynJohn CornynNadler gets under GOP's skin Restlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on Democrats worry a speedy impeachment trial will shut out public MORE (R-Texas) questioned if individuals who shared information with the whistleblower were leaking classified information. 

But some Republicans have suggested members of their party are standing by Trump not because they support him but because they are afraid of a high-profile break with the president, who is known for relishing public feuds and lashing out at his critics. 

Former Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeThe Hill's 12:30 Report: House managers to begin opening arguments on day two Flake: Republicans don't speak out against Trump 'because they want to keep their jobs' GOP senator calls CNN reporter a 'liberal hack' when asked about Parnas materials MORE (R-Ariz.), who was one of Trump’s most vocal critics while in the Senate, said he personally wasn’t a fan of impeachment but predicted that 35 of his former GOP colleagues would vote to impeach Trump if they could do so as part of a secret vote. 

“Anybody who has sat through two years, as I have, of Republican luncheons realizes that there's not a lot of love for the president,” Flake said during an interview with NPR’s “Here and Now.” “There's a lot of fear of what it means to go against the president, but most Republican senators would not like to be dealing with this for another year or another five years.”

Asked why he was one of the only Senate Republican criticizing Trump, Romney also appeared to suggest that some of his colleagues were making a political calculation. 

“There's such enormous power associated with being the party in power, both in the White House as well as in the Senate and the House,” Romney said during the Atlantic Festival. “I think it’s very natural for people to look at circumstances and see them in the light that’s most amenable to their maintaining power and doing things to preserve that power.”