In 2006, George W. Bush faced the ultimate test of his presidency: whether to surge in Iraq or lose the war—all in the midst of a contentious midterm election. At the very least, Bush might have expected that the GOP would have stood united with him on the precipice of its electoral crucible.
But, of course, this was not to be.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the embodiment of why Congress needs term limits, rushed into the Oval Office on the eve of the 2006 midterm elections. McConnell (to evoke a Trump image) was basically on his knees, begging Bush not to deploy more troops. In an act of Larry David-like self-loathing, McConnell pleaded with Bush to give up his presidency so that the GOP could maintain power in Congress.
With friends like these, right?
Bush ignored the pathetic display and doubled down on his surge strategy. In so doing, he likely prevented Iraq from being a lost war under his watch. The GOP lost in 2006 and began its torturous descent to minority status on Capitol Hill.
By 2009, all seemed to be lost for the GOP. Barack Obama had won the presidency and the Democratic Party held considerable majorities in both houses of Congress. It was only then that Mitch McConnell, with little left to lose, showed some gumption and vowed to resist Barack Obama at every turn.
During this period, the GOP leadership insisted that they would do more legislatively if The People would just give them the House. Well, two short years later, the Republicans found themselves winning again! After the aggressive overreach of the Left with the inaptly named Affordable Care Act, the conservative grass roots had had enough. And so 2010 was the year of the Tea Party Republicans.
Finally, sanity was to be restored. Or so the voting public thought.
But then something funny happened. Instead of embracing the new Tea Party conservative populists, the GOP congressional leadership ignored, annexed, and stymied whomever it could from the so-called “Tea Party Caucus.” In effect, the Republicans in Congress did the Democrats’ dirty work! Rather than recognizing the inherent advantages that the new wave of populism gave the GOP or building on this new momentum going into 2012, the Washington Republican leadership opted to defend their status as the privileged minority. They patted the people on their pretty little heads, in other words.
Things got so bad that the GOP actively campaigned against the Tea Party. In fact, in 2012, rather than pushing forward vibrant candidates with new ideas, the GOP coalesced behind Mitt Romney. But, it was very evident early on that the base of the party did not want him. This fact, more than anything, explains why the 2012 primaries were so contentious.
The election of 2012 should have been the bumper harvest year for the Tea Party. It wasn’t. The Republican Establishment gave Obama another four years, all so they could enjoy continuing being the privileged minority in Washington. In those four years, American relations with much of the rest of the world soured to such a point that few any longer believed in the staying power of the United States. Essentially, we experienced our own version of Japan’s “Lost Generation” economically. Oh, and, thanks to Republican weakness, in many states, little boys can now use the girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms.
Throughout this period, the Republicans in Congress were fighting—ot so they alleged—a holding action against the Left. Their “fight” did not inspire fear on the Left, or even alarm. Critical issues were allowed to wither on the vine. The Republicans punted on overturning Obamacare. They rationalized lapses in judgment on key foreign policy issues. Most Republicans shrugged when the Obama Administration imposed new regulation upon new regulation. The GOP did this, all while lecturing the voters that, if only they were given not just the House, but also the Senate, they could stop the bleeding.
So, in 2014, the Tea Party activists heard these cries and dutifully gave them the Senate. And yet in 2015, the GOP allowed for the most aggressive and unpopular overreach yet from the Obama executive branch. It was at this time, that the Obama Administration issued its spate of unlawful executive orders granting amnesty to many illegal immigrants. Many constitutional scholars—from both the Left and the Right—insisted that this overreach was a potentially impeachable offense.
Fact is, the Republicans did not have the numbers they needed to win votes on key pieces of legislation. Yet, the GOP still could have tried governing. They could have put the legislative onus on the Democrats. The Republicans could have painted a picture showing that it was the Democrats who really are the “party of no.”
The same Republicans who resisted governing during their time as the opposition, were the ones who looked down their noses at Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Indeed, many of these Republican leaders remain in Congress today. With the exception of the top of the ticket loss in 2012 (though despite that loss, Republicans still made significant gains in Congress, and at the state and local levels), the last 6 years has been the tale of a Republican ascendancy. Yet, the Republican leadership either didn’t recognize (or care to recognize) this fact. They continued to act as though they were as powerless as they were in 2009!
Now, with the Trump Administration underway, some of the same Republicans who opposed or offered only the most lukewarm of endorsements for Trump are entrusted with enacting his agenda for making America great again. This is a dangerous prospect. In his first week in office, Trump demonstrated his willingness to fulfil every one of his campaign promises. He has done this with the copious (yet judicious) use of executive orders—in most cases merely reversing Obama usurpations of power by restoring that power to the branches the people have entrusted it in the Constitution. But, these are short-term solutions. Trump will need and, because he respects the separation of powers, he will want Congress to enact some of his more ambitious plans.
Since the inauguration, the GOP has (with some notable exceptions) stood firm behind Trump’s cabinet picks. Despite this I remain skeptical of their ability to remain committed to the Trump cause. Confirming cabinet picks is a matter of form in Congress. Congress is obsessed with legacy and pro-forma tradition even more than an institution like Yale University. Impinge on the time-honored tradition of confirming cabinet picks, and you risk invoking the measured wrath of even the stodgiest country club Republican.
Where it really matters, though, Republicans are waffling. A handful of them in Congress are fretting over the “process” that Trump used to temporarily ban so-called “refugees” from seven countries. Lamenting the improper process of a bureaucratic decision is one of the ways that those aforementioned country club Republicans turn on their own leaders.
As the Trump Administration continues to do what no other Republican leader has done in decades (i.e., push back against the Left), several of those weak sister Republicans are fading into the shadows. They are likely waiting to pounce again when Trump is weak. For now, Donald Trump is keeping his raucous coalition together through sheer, inimitable will.
But for how long?
It is evident that most Republican leaders are itching to abandon him at the first sign of popular Leftist resistance. In fact, I believe that a major objective of the ongoing “days of rage” protests is to scare the weaker GOP members into abandoning Trump. The Left wants to cleave enough Republicans away from Trump in order to cobble together the votes they will need to stop President Trump’s agenda. The Democrats don’t have the numbers to do this on their own. So, they’re hoping for some Never Trump Republicans to come along.
The only thing that will keep the GOP Establishment in line will be success. The Trump team cannot stop its open resistance to the legacy left-leaning media. President Trump has to continue with his boldness. He can brook no compromise with the Left; he will only stem the Left through continued brashness. If Trump continues being Trump, he will hold together his fragile coalition in Washington. If the GOP senses that Trump is not waffling—if they also know that enough of their voters are behind Trump (which, they are)—then Trump will continue winning.
For Donald Trump and his relationship with Congress to remain effective, essentially, nothing will hold them together like success. And, my friends, success is contagious: it breeds more success. That’s good for you and me. It means more legislation protecting us, and more victories for the Right over the next several years. More victories over a protracted time, means a permanently weakened Left.
That’s what I call Making America Great Again.