Why Republicans in Congress are starting to turn on Donald Trump
The White House employee who carries a broom and sweeps up messy spills deserves a raise. The breakdown of policy on our Kurdish allies, the ignoring of the emoluments clause of the Constitution, and the defense by President Trump that there was no quid pro quo with Ukraine were all in the last week. “Clean up in aisle one, aisle two, and aisle three.”
The most interesting thing about these mishaps is that it was Republicans who pushed back against them. More than a hundred House Republicans voted for a resolution condemning the decision of Trump to abandon the Kurds in Syria. Republicans also pressured him to reverse his decision to hawk his Doral Miami resort as a venue for the Group of Seven summit next year. Somehow, the appearance that Trump traded his presidential seal for a shiny brass hotel employee badge appeared unseemly.
His stalwart defense that there was no quid pro quo with Ukraine was contradicted by his own chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who sounded like he would be flipped by federal prosecutors, at least until he reverse flipped. Have Republicans had enough? Have they seen the light? No. At this point, everything that Republican leaders in Congress say and do has one single imperative, which is to whip the members of their caucus against impeachment. It is now vital to them that both the process and results look nakedly partisan. This means keeping the number of House Republicans who vote for impeachment to a bare minimum.
Just as important is the direct correlation between Republican votes for impeachment in the House and the Senate. The higher the number of House Republicans who support impeachment, the higher the number of Senate Republicans who will be pressured to support conviction. Republicans must make a House vote against impeachment as easy as possible. But Trump has now made it even harder with his errors.
If you are Republican Brian Fitzpatrick in Philadelphia or Republican John Katko in Syracuse, both members of Congress representing districts that Hilary Clinton won three years, this was a complicated week. If you are Senator Cory Gardner in Colorado or Senator Susan Collins in Maine, the presidential mishaps have probably also made you miserable.
It is the battleground districts and states that matter. A poll by the New York Times and Siena College may have fogged the terrain in those areas. In the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, Wisconsin, Arizona, and North Carolina that Trump won, support for an impeachment inquiry stands at 50 percent. But opposition to the impeachment and removal of the president stands slightly higher at 53 percent.
In other words, swing voters remain both deadlocked and malleable. The climate can shift in either direction, with Republicans and Democrats sniffing at every breeze. Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress will be enforcing discipline on Trump, making sure he does not end up fanning the wind against them. Former White House press secretary Joe Lockhart has advanced a theory that the new checks and balances on Trump may come from Republicans saving him from impeachment. The president is like an adolescent with a sharp pencil. Or perhaps a dull sharpie.
Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years and served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.