Risk-averse Republicans are failing the republic

Risk-averse Republicans are failing the republic
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Keep your nose down. Stay away from the media glare. Ignore institutional norms. Deny constitutional responsibilities. Display your party loyalty by voting with the president.

Fearful of a partisan backlash and a primary challenge, congressional Republicans mostly follow this script. They’re not wrong. Polls show that most Republicans — even Republican-leaning independents — approve of the job President TrumpDonald John TrumpWatergate prosecutor says that Sondland testimony was 'tipping point' for Trump In private moment with Trump, Justice Kennedy pushed for Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination: book Obama: 'Everybody needs to chill out' about differences between 2020 candidates MORE is doing in office. And frankly, principled, courageous actions make history, but rarely are they rewarded in daily politics.

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Al Pacino’s character in the film “Scent of a Woman” aptly described the problem: “I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew. But I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard.”

It has also become harder. Today’s partisans now have the explosive power of social media at their disposal, allowing them to render judgment and exact punishment instantaneously.

For example, Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntMichelle Obama presents Lin-Manuel Miranda with National Portrait Award GOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Overnight Health Care: Cigarette smoking rates at new low | Spread of vaping illness slowing | Dems in Congress push to block Trump abortion rule MORE (R-Mo.) was summarily “disinvited” to a county central committee event when he voted against the national emergency declaration issued by President Trump on the border wall. Aside from standing up for Congress’s “power of the purse,” he also likely was thinking about protecting the hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funding committed to the state of Missouri. But no matter, his constituents think the only GOP principle that exists is fealty to the White House occupant.

A president’s rhetoric, like background music in a movie, sets the country’s mood, and there is little doubt that our public dialogue has become coarser since Trump took office. While his supporters may enjoy some emotional relief in having a president who bluntly expresses their anger and bitterness, it surely is not making America great.

Of course, quietly, many Republicans keep hoping the party’s base eventually will wake up from its Trump-drunken stupor to return to normalcy. The problem with this risk-averse approach is that it is failing the Republic and all of that for which it stands.

Now, the same could be said about Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s unwillingness to support impeachment hearings at this time, that Pelosi (D-Calif.) is putting Democratic politics ahead of the polis. And this is true; for she essentially is saying to her GOP colleagues: “Trump is your problem, not mine. He hasn’t added any people to the Republican Party’s coalition since he has been in office. If you don’t deal with him, your party will suffer — and mine will benefit.”

The difference is that Pelosi knows that she can’t do anything to wake up the GOP base. She has no credibility with them, which is why it is not “worth it.” In going after him, Democrats would only make President Trump a glorified martyr in the eyes of his supporters. His nemesis must come from within the Republican Party.

Standing outside, it seems standing up to Trump would be simple. A Republican elected official of some stature could publicly declare: “I will stand for all that President Trump has accomplished during his presidency, but I no longer can stand with him. As a Christian conservative and an American committed to our country’s constitutional republic, I think he has transgressed too often to forgive and his behavior weighs too heavily on my conscience to forget. Today, I announce that I am running for the Republican presidential nomination.”  

But who could do this? All of the legitimate office-holding conservatives have compromised characters. They have enabled Trump’s follies and, as the New York Times’s Bret Stephens remarked, “The GOP is now defined by self-abasement.” This knowledge is what continues to embolden the president to do whatever he pleases, tweet-storms and all.

Then again, in politics, the most dangerous assumption to make is that things will stay the same. Events happen and perceptions shift. Overnight, winners and losers swap places. In short, this made-for-television national political drama is nowhere near its conclusion, no matter what happens with special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump MORE’s report in the Russia-collusion investigation.

On that note, has anyone figured out who wrote the anonymous New York Times op-ed? I’m wondering if there might be a character I’ve forgotten all about who may yet reappear.

Lara M. Brown is director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University. Follow her on Twitter @LaraMBrownPhD.