Opinion | White House

Juan Williams: Republicans flee Trump

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Nineteen House Republicans have announced they will be leaving Congress.

Republicans are now fleeing Congress at a similar rate as they did in advance of the 2018 midterms when Democrats captured the House majority by winning 41 seats.

Polling released last week suggests Republican voters - and their politicians on Capitol Hill - are increasingly exhausted by President Trump's lies, corruption and bullying.

Fifty-six percent of Americans told the Associated Press poll they would not describe Trump as "honest."

That's not just Democrats calling out Trump.

Almost half of Republicans can't say that Trump is honest.

To be precise, only 53 percent of Republicans say the word "honest" describes Trump "very or extremely well," according to the poll by The Associated Press-NORC.

That leaves a lot of Republicans to live with a painful reality.

They know Trump, a man they regard as less than fully honest, is likely to be at the top of the 2020 ticket for a Republican Party that advertises itself as the home of evangelicals, American tradition and family values.

And there is another poll result showing why congressional Republicans are looking for the exit.

The same poll found 61 percent of Americans think Trump has "little or no respect for the country's democratic institutions and traditions."

Remember, Trump is the leader of a party that loves to talk about the Founding Fathers and defending the Constitution and American traditions.

By the way, 26 percent of law-and-order loving Republicans admit in the poll that Trump does not care about the nation's constitutional-based government.

And get this - 33 percent, a third of Republicans, said Trump does not make them "proud."

This implosion of Republican self-image, their eroding view of themselves as guardians of American values with Trump in the White House, helps explain why so many Republicans are leaving Congress.

A month ago, The Washington Post described the number of Republicans choosing to retire as "staggering." By their count "41 House Republicans have left national politics or announced they won't seek reelection in the nearly three years since Trump took office."

Longtime GOP Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.) became the 19th House Republican to announce his retirement last week.

Recently, Walden was twice targeted by Trump's MAGA mob on conservative social media. First, he was cursed for his lack of loyalty to Trump for opposing the president's grab of military funding to pay for a wall on the Mexican border.

Then Walden was lashed for condemning Trump's racist tweet suggesting that four Democratic congresswomen of color "go back" where they came from, even though three of the four were born in the U.S.

In Trump's own words, Republicans who criticize him are "human scum."

In the Senate, where Republicans are in the majority, this battle for the soul of the party is also pushing conservatives with a conscience to the exits.

For example, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) has already announced he will retire rather than run again in 2022.

In May, Trump criticized Burr for issuing a subpoena for the president's son Donald Trump Jr. to testify about Russian interference in the 2016 election.

At that time, The New York Times described Burr as facing an "extraordinary pressure campaign ... forcing [GOP] senators to choose between their loyalty to the Intelligence Committee and to the president's family."

Four other veteran GOP senators are already choosing to quit rather than run on the 2020 ticket with Trump: Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.) and Pat Roberts (Kan.).

Then there are five Republicans who want to stay in the Senate but find that being called on to blindly defend Trump's behavior is creating the toughest reelection fights of their political lives: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Martha McSally (Ariz.), and Thom Tillis (N.C.).

Meanwhile, Trump's most open GOP critic in the Senate, Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), is regularly savaged by Trump's media defenders. Rush Limbaugh, the talk show host, told listeners without any proof that Romney is working with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and had "assured her there was Republican support to remove Trump."

That kind of political beating keeps most congressional Republicans from breaking with Trump, but it can't stop others from leaving.

There are glimmers of courage, however, with Senate Republicans exhibiting some conscience in the last month.

A high level of congressional Republican criticism also led Trump to back down on plans to help himself financially by holding an international summit at his struggling resort in Doral, Fla.

"I think there was a lot of concern," Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a member of Republican leadership, told The New York Times.

But moments of conscience are the exception for congressional Republicans in the Trump era.

Three years into Trump, the options for Republicans who tire of his lies, his bullying and his claim to "great and unmatched wisdom" remain painfully clear - say nothing or head for the door.

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.

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