Trump’s GOP critics should stay, fight

Jules witcover

WASHINGTON — Sen. Jeff Flake’s decision not to seek re-election next year won’t cure what ails the Grand Old Party under President Trump.

The Arizona Republican’s announcement that he would walk away from the Senate followed on the heels of a similar declaration by another Republican critic of Trump, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee. The two political abdications will do little to solve the GOP dilemma of a reckless and ill-informed man ensconced in the Oval Office.

With more than three years to go before the next presidential election, much chatter and consternation is heard within the party establishment about how to rid itself of its polarizing figurehead.

The various considerations for deposing Trump — from impeachment to ouster under the 25th Amendment — lack conviction and verifiable cause so far.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and alleged collusion by the Trump campaign has an uncertain outcome in terms of impeachable abuse of power.

There has been no hint yet of the kind of “smoking gun” that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation to avoid certain impeachment. Nixon’s undoing was his irrefutable observation on a White House tape of his willingness to bribe the Democratic National Committee burglars to buy their silence about the Watergate break-in.

Veteran Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona led a small group of party congressional leaders to inform Nixon he lacked the votes to escape the impeachment. It’s hard to imagine a similar GOP confrontation with Trump if it came to that.

The bulk of GOP legislators support Trump, or at least are unwilling to challenge him in the absence of such evidence of a blatant crime, despite their considerable annoyance by his personal demeanor.

Much more than the individual defections of Corker and Flake, and the outspoken anti-Trump views of Sen. John McCain, is needed to mount an effective intra-party rebellion against the president.

Yet the continuing opposition to his agenda, as seen in the failure of repeal and replace Obamacare, and now in trying to fashion the Trump tax reduction, keeps Trump’s frustrations and temperament at a boiling level.

The small coterie of rebellious Senate Republicans doesn’t represent the core of the old party establishment. That establishment has shown little disposition to regain its influence, though former President George W. Bush recently broke his silence to take a few implied pokes at the incumbent.

McCain, despite his ill health, has done what he can to provide more backbone to others in what passes now for moderation in his party. It’s now contended that Corker and Flake declined to seek reelection because of likely well-funded primary challenges from the GOP far right.

Nevertheless, the cause Corker and Flake profess to champion — ridding their party and the country of the peril posed by Trump’s erosion of truth and decency in the nation’s politics — could have been better served by continuing the anti-Trump fight from the Senate floor and within Senate Republican ranks.

Bowing to political pressures from the bully in the Oval Office without a fight only encourages the likes of former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon, from his new perch running the Breitbart News website, to heighten the war on Trump unbelievers.

Bannon has accelerated his assault on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for his failure to bury Obamacare, generally characterizing McConnell as a tired and inept leader of a Republican Party on the skids.

The Republican Party is already in disarray without men of conscience and decency like Corker and Flake walking away, leaving the hard fighting within the system to men like McCain who will both speak out and steadfastly vote their consciences as long they have the breath and the power to do so.

A new Senate Leadership Fund is defending McConnell against Bannon’s scheme to demolish the beleaguered and groggy GOP Senate establishment. But Bannon’s alliance with Trump to crush the old moderate-to-conservative club in Congress cannot be lightly dismissed.

Editor’s note: Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcover@comcast.net.