- President Donald Trump is engulfed in a firestorm of controversy – but Republicans in Congress are unlikely to turn on Trump until his base does.
- Recently, several Republican members of Congress have criticised the Trump administration’s disastrous withdrawal of US troops from Syria, and the now-defunct plan to host the 2020 G-7 summit at one of Trump’s Florida properties.
- But a Vanderbilt political historian and a veteran GOP strategist interviewed by Insider said while GOP Senators may publicly push back on Trump on certain issues, their fate is ultimately tied to his.
- “Their political livelihood is tied to Trump. So barring some enormous smoking gun that we do not yet have – and despite the chirping of Mitt Romney – they are not as it is known right now going to go against the president,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said.
- A recent survey from PRRI found that the forty-five per cent of Republicans without a college degree and fifty-five per cent of GOP respondents who named Fox as their primary news source say there was absolutely nothing Trump could do to lose their support.
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President Donald Trump is engulfed in a firestorm of controversy as he faces an impeachment inquiry over his conduct with Ukraine and the blowback from his decision to withdraw US military presence from Syria – but Republicans in Congress are unlikely to turn on Trump until his base does.
Over the weekend, Trump ultimately scrapped a controversial plan to host the 2020 G-7 summit at one of his company’s properties, the Trump National Doral Resort in Miami, following serious blowback from both Democrats and even some Republicans in Congress who were “tired of defending him,” the Washington Post reported.
While the pushback on Trump could signal cracks in GOP senators’ support for all of Trump’s actions, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all criticism holds equal weight, or that they will be more likely to convict him in the Senate.
Both a political historian and a veteran GOP strategist interviewed by Insider said while Republicans may publicly push back on Trump on certain issues, their fate is ultimately tied to his – and a vote to convict could usher not just the end of Trump’s presidency, but their careers as well.
GOP lawmakers criticised Trump’s withdrawal from Syria
The disastrous retreat from Syria gave the green light for Turkey to make an incursion into Northern Syria, directly threatening the lives of Kurdish people and fighters. The Kurds have been among the US’ key partners in the fight against ISIS – which now has a second life thanks to the US withdrawing from the region.
Vanderbilt University political science and history Professor Tom Schwartz, a scholar of US foreign relations, told Insider that it isn’t at all unprecedented for the US to make foreign policy decisions abandoning their allies, such as when the US finally withdrew from Vietnam and abandoned allies in Cambodia and South Vietnam.
But Schwartz said unlike previous cases, the decision to pull out of Syria “didn’t seem to come from any particular, immediate need to do this. There’s no particular reason why all of a sudden Turkey needed to be appeased.”
Many Republican senators have disagreed with the way Trump went about his sudden withdrawal of troops from Syria and expressed concern for the Kurds. But unlike their Democratic colleagues, they have declined to call out Trump by name.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for example, wrote a Washington Post op-ed criticising the Syria withdrawal that didn’t mention Trump’s name once – but called out former President Barack Obama three times.
Schwartz further pointed out that Trump “checking off another box on his perception of his campaign promises to get out of these wars by like bringing American troops out. And so he feels like he has lived up to that something that he was elected on,” predicting, “I don’t think the Kurdish issue is yet strong enough to move enough Republicans into the impeachment category.”
Veteran Republican political strategist, Ford O’Connell agreed, telling Insider in a Friday phone interview that Republicans in the Senate who disagree with the way Trump went about the Syria withdrawal don’t necessarily disagree with Trump’s overall foreign policy – or that the US’s overall strategy in Syria will be an inflection point in the election.
“He’s challenging Republican orthodoxy. He’s not necessarily challenging the two parties and frankly, most Democrats and independents agree with him that we should be very careful about how we go there,” O’Connell said of Syria, adding, “the Democrats aren’t real thrilled about going overseas, even against ISIS.”
Barring another ‘smoking gun,’ GOP senators are unlikely to capitulate on impeachment and vote to remove Trump.
As Axios previously reported, Trump currently benefits from a big “red wall” of 36 GOP senators from states where Trump’s approval rating swings more favourably. Fifteen of those senators are up for reelection in 2020, and an additional 10 senators represent states where Trump’s approval rating is underwater but are not up for reelection next year.
There are currently five particularly vulnerable Republicans facing re-election next year in states where Trump’s approval rating, as tracked by Morning Consult polling, is underwater. They include Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Thom Tillis and Susan Collins of Maine.
Two other Republicans, Sens. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Steve Daines of Montana, represent states where Trump’s approval rating is slightly below water, but are far less vulnerable than the aforementioned senators, who all have strong Democratic opponents.
But so far, none of the aforementioned senators have either forcefully condemned Trump’s conduct towards Ukraine or directly called Trump out as responsible for the situation in Syria.
This is because even if Republican members of Congress find Trump’s conduct distasteful, unwise, or worse, Trump still enjoys strong support among his core base of Republican primary supporters. And over the past few years, Trump has made the Republican Party name virtually synonymous with himself.
As O’Connell pointed out, the 2016 election saw record low ticket-splitting of voters backing Trump but voting for a Democratic Senate candidate. In every state that Trump won with a concurrent Senate race, the Republican candidate for Senate also won – further evidence that totally rejecting Trump would be a political death sentence for many.
The latest 2019 American Values Survey. conducted August 22 to September 15 by the Public Religion Research Institute, found that 94% of Republicans and 98% of Republicans who regularly consume Fox News do not support Congress impeaching Trump and removing him from office.
In an even more revealing finding, forty-five per cent of Republicans without a college degree and fifty-five per cent of GOP respondents who named Fox as their primary news source – two demographics Trump relies on- say there was absolutely nothing Trump could do to lose their support.
“Their political livelihood is tied to Trump. So barring some enormous smoking gun that we do not yet have – and despite the chirping of Mitt Romney – they are not as it is known right now going to go against the president,” O’Connell said of vulnerable Republicans in the Senate.
Schwartz also echoed that view, saying, “if you want to look for an explanation about why Republican senators don’t call Trump out by name, you’ll look there: you don’t call out a president of your party when he is strongly popular with the base of that party.”
Congressional Republicans thus face a type of reverse collective action problem: why would a senator risk convicting Trump if no one else in the group is willing to do so?
O’Connell argued that GOP members of Congress “realise that it’s to support Trump the best way they can within their ideology and their plan forms in their positions. That’s why I look at Syria. for example, as a compartmentalized issue separate of impeachment.”
“You might see some Republicans try to find the middle ground where they can rebuke the president. I was thinking that Mitt Romney may play the role of Joe Lieberman, where he denounced Bill Clinton’s conduct but still voted to acquit him.” Schwartz noted.
O’Connell says Sen. Susan Collins – who faces a strong Democratic challenger – has successfully threaded the line between criticising Trump over his decorum and trade policy while simultaneously decrying the Democratic-lead impeachment inquiry.
“Giving up on Trump over impeachment without some bombshell is a mistake. So the best thing that Republicans can do is make the case that this is a partisan exercise to appease a rabid base,” O’Connell said. “If they make that case, they’re going to be able to have the best chance to survive.”
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