For Democrats, it is a glimmer of hope to see Republicans on Capitol Hill publicly criticizing President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump goes after Cassidy after saying he wouldn't support him for president in 2024 Jan. 6 panel lays out criminal contempt case against Bannon Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Agencies sound alarm over ransomware targeting agriculture groups MORE.
This is happening after Trump’s apparent reversal of his ban on U.S. firms doing business with the Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE.
The turn-around on policy was so fast and so hypocritical that even Republicans who see political profit in blind loyalty to Trump could not keep a straight face.
“If President Trump has in fact bargained away the recent restrictions on Huawei, then we will have to get those restrictions put back in place through legislation,” tweeted Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRepublicans would need a promotion to be 'paper tigers' Defense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' MORE (R-Fla.). “And it will pass with a large veto-proof majority.”
Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamA pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics Republicans' mantra should have been 'Stop the Spread' Senators preview bill to stop tech giants from prioritizing their own products MORE (R-S.C.) seemed to back up Rubio’s threat to the president, saying “there will be a lot of pushback if this is a major concession.”
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) also stood apart from Trump. He tweeted: “President Trump needs to…stay consistent in making sure [Huawei has] ZERO access to the US market.”
And then there is criticism from Trump Senate Republicans on the coming budget deal.
Trump is trying to sell Congressional Republicans on a one-year continuing resolution (CR) in order to avoid a debt default in September.
But GOP defense hawks say it cuts spending on the military too sharply, while the party’s fiscal conservatives say it does nothing to slow the incredible rise in the national debt.
“While some members of the administration have suggested a year-long CR as a viable path forward, this must be avoided,” 16 Republican Senators wrote in the letter to the administration. “Under these draconian conditions, the [Department of Defense] would be incapable of increasing readiness, recapitalizing our force, or rationalizing funding to align with the [National Defense Strategy].”
The Washington Post put it this way: “The brewing opposition from conservative Senate Republicans illustrates the tightrope confronting the administration, as the ultimate plan clearly needs buy-in from Democrats who control the House but must win over enough GOP votes to avert a rebellion from Trump’s own party.”
Between the backing-down on the Huawei ban and the questionable budget proposal, there are signs of a split — if not a coming civil war — between Trump and Senate Republicans.
In the House, there is also a sign of rebellion.
Last week, Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashDemocrats defend Afghan withdrawal amid Taliban advance Vietnam shadow hangs over Biden decision on Afghanistan Kamala Harris and our shameless politics MORE of Michigan, one of the founders of the far-right Freedom Caucus, quit the GOP, saying he had become “disenchanted with” and “frightened by” the partisan and divisive politics accelerated by Trump. Amash is now an independent — and he is calling for impeachment hearings on Trump.
“The Republican Party, I believed, stood for limited government, economic freedom and individual liberty — principles that had made the American Dream possible for my family,” Amash wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.
Trump immediately fired back:
“Great news for the Republican Party as one of the dumbest & most disloyal men in Congress is 'quitting' the Party,” the president tweeted. “No Collusion, No Obstruction! Knew he couldn't get the nomination to run again in the Great State of Michigan. Already being challenged for his seat. A total loser!"
What Amash is now saying publicly fits with what I’ve been hearing from Congressional Republicans in private. Trump is abandoning bedrock issues — balanced budgets, free trade and strong support for NATO — that formed the modern Republican Party.
In previous budget fights, Trump and Republicans found a way to reconcile, and that will likely be the case again.
But his incoherent handling of Huawei will be hard to paper over.
Remember, it was Trump who promised that starting a trade war with China would end quickly, with Beijing begging for deal.
And it was Trump who agreed Huawei was a threat because their tactics included passing U.S. technology to the Chinese military.
Trump’s reversal is being defended by his aides as a strategic move to get a trade deal with China. But he has yet to explain how a threat to national security became a bargaining chip.
Why make such a major concession with little to show for it?
The conventional wisdom in Washington has been that GOP elected officials will never turn on Trump for fear of being primaried by a pro-Trump candidate. Just ask former Rep. Mark SanfordMark SanfordMark Sanford calls Graham 'a canary in the coalmine' on GOP's relationship with Trump Top cyber Pentagon official overseeing defense contractor project placed on leave Cheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP MORE (R-S.C.) about the price of challenging Trump.
Trump knows this, and uses it to keep the GOP in line.
But some now see his grip on the GOP loosening.
Trump’s “vacillating hyperbole on North Korea” and uncertain stand on Huawei has “managed to confuse allies as well as adversaries,” Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake wrote last week.
The dean of conservative columnists, George F. Will, who left the GOP in 2016, makes the case that the party under Trump has abandoned conservative principles.
“It’s become a cult ― it’s become a cult because of an absence of ideas, because they’ve jettisoned the ideas,” Will said about the GOP in an MSNBC interview promoting his new book, “The Conservative Sensibility.”
“For years, decades, all the 20th century almost, conservatives said, ‘We’re for free trade.’ Trump said, ‘By the way, you’re not anymore.’ And they said, ‘OK, we’re not for free trade anymore,’ or they pretend to be.”
For the first time, there is reason to think Republicans in Congress can see their aims as distinct from Trump’s targets.
Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.