Republicans Face Challenge With Trump

Andrew Yang is running for the Democratic nomination for president, but he may have a unique understanding of what it’s like to be a Republican member of Congress right now.
After accumulating $120,000 in student loan debt to get a Columbia law degree, Yang went to work for a big New York law firm. He quit after “the worst five months of my life,” he recently told The Washington Post. “Working at a law firm was like a pie-eating contest, and if you won, your prize was more pie.”

Defenders of Trump find themselves doing the same thing. Only it probably doesn’t taste like pie.

Many Republicans in Congress detested Trump when he was running for president, and some said so. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he was a “jackass” who “scares the hell out of me.” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called him “a pathological liar.”

He has done some things GOP members cherish, such as signing a big tax cut and appointing two conservatives to the Supreme Court. But on most days, they have found that having him in the presidency is like keeping a raccoon as a house pet — impossible to train, doing serious damage every day and always apt to bite.

Trump carried them to a historic defeat in the 2018 congressional elections, when Democrats flipped 40 House seats, their biggest gain since 1974. Overall, they got about 10 million more votes than Republicans.

Many GOP members have enjoyed as much of this as they can stand. Last year, Speaker Paul Ryan decided to quit, with friends reporting that “he feels like he’s running a daycare center.” So far, 21 of the party’s House incumbents have announced they won’t run again in 2020.

It may be they are frustrated to see Nancy Pelosi in control and pessimistic about recapturing the House. They could be stuck in the minority for another two years or longer — with Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren in the Oval Office.

One prospect, however, could be even more unpleasant: a re-elected Trump. In his first term, he has shown himself incapable of growing into the job, as everyone hoped he would. So Republicans have had the endless misery of making excuses, shading facts and reciting White House talking points that insult the intelligence of any sentient adult.
Instead of learning from his mistakes, Trump has persisted in his recklessness, bigotry, ignorance, contempt for constitutional limits, puerile boasting and name-calling, disdain for allies, infatuation with tyrants and eagerness to use his office for his financial benefit. “He’s an idiot,” concluded his own chief of staff, John Kelly, as reported in Bob Woodward’s book, “Fear.” “We’re in Crazytown.”

Kelly is just one of those who found there was no way to do their jobs conscientiously and also get along with Trump — notably Defense Secretary James Mattis, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and chief economic adviser Gary Cohn.

These are able, accomplished people. At best, they managed only to keep him from doing even worse.

But at what cost? They had to suppress their best attributes to indulge Trump’s worst ones. Retired Navy Commander Guy Snodgrass, a former aide to Mattis, writes in his book “Holding the Line” of watching in dismay as his boss made “public statements in support of policies that I knew he personally loathed.”

All Mattis and many others got in return was to be ignored, overruled, humiliated and abused. Most left with their reputations stained, if not ruined.

If this is how Trump has conducted himself while eyeing a second term, we can only imagine what he would do without the worry of a re-election campaign. If he previously had to consider the threat of impeachment, an acquittal would embolden him.

He would take these achievements as a total vindication of all he has done — and a license to do even worse.

For GOP members who are fanatically partisan, addicted to office or obsessed with the perks of their jobs, serving as apologists for this president may be a pleasure, not a duty. But for any with a sliver of principle and self-respect, the prospect of four more years of Trump cannot be enticing.

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” asked Jesus of Nazareth. Losing your soul to gain the world is one thing. Losing it to keep Trump is another.

Steve Chapman
Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune. His twice-a-week column on national and international affairs, distributed by Creators Syndicate, appears in some 50 papers across the country.