WASHINGTON – Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, an early and loyal Trump enthusiast, gave an uncommonly candid assessment of the president to a group of young Republicans at home in California recently.
“He’s an a–hole,” Duncan said, “but he’s our a–hole.” So reported his hometown San Diego Union-Tribune.
That’s close to a perfect summary of Republicans’ relationship of convenience with President Donald Trump.
Trump gave succor to neo-Nazis, boasted of groping women, attacked the integrity of the judicial system, fired the FBI director to stymie the Russia probe, boasted about his genital size on national television, attacked racial and religious minorities and labeled women all manner of vulgarities.
And, through it all, Republicans stuck with Trump.
But this time, some Republicans say he went too far. He made a deal with Democrats.
It’s not a big deal, mind you, just a procedural agreement to postpone budget wrangling for three months. But because Trump sided with Chuck and Nancy over Mitch and Paul, combined with his tweeted attacks on the Republican Senate leader and Stephen Bannon’s threat to back primary challenges to Republican senators, there is suddenly talk of civil war within the GOP.
Republican lawmakers booed Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney when they tried to sell Trump’s deal with the Democrats. “It’s just a betrayal of everything we’ve been talking about for years as Republicans,” former senator Jim DeMint, an influential conservative, told Politico.
In article headlined “Bound to No Party, Trump Upends 150 Years of Two-Party Rule,” Peter Baker of the New York Times quoted conservative writer Ben Domenech: “This week was the first time he struck out and did something completely at odds with what the Republican leadership and establishment would want him to do in this position.”
The first time!
If this is the first time Trump has been completely at odds with what the Republican leadership and establishment want him to do, let’s review the various things Trump has done as president that must have been consistent with what they wanted. If his deal with Chuck and Nancy is a “betrayal of everything,” let’s recall all those things that were not such betrayals of Republicanism:
Firing James B. Comey in an effort to thwart the FBI’s Russia probe.
Dictating a misleading statement explaining his son’s campaign interaction with Russians.
Moving slowly to fire national security adviser Michael Flynn after being told by the Justice Department that Russia could potentially blackmail Flynn.
Inventing the false charge that he was wiretapped by his predecessor.
Shoving aside a European prime minister to make his way to the front of a photo.
Mocking the abilities of U.S. intelligence agencies to an overseas audience.
Sharing sensitive Israeli intelligence with the Russians.
Initially failing to affirm NATO’s collective-security guarantee.
Gratuitously antagonizing European and Asian allies.
Raising the temperature in the North Korea nuclear standoff with a threat of “fire and fury.”
Encouraging a blockade of U.S. ally Qatar.
Issuing a ban on entry by members of certain Muslim countries that was struck down in court and had to be rewritten.
Attacking “so-called” federal judges and saying they should be blamed for terrorist attacks.
Launching a false social-media attack on the Muslim mayor of London.
Declaring the media “enemies of the American people.”
Claiming he lost the popular vote only because millions of people voted illegally and appointing an election fraud commission in an attempt to prove it.
Saying there were “fine people” marching among neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.
Moving to end protection from deportation for hundreds of thousands of immigrant “dreamers.”
And that list, of course, doesn’t include the many things Trump did before assuming office: the “Access Hollywood” video, the “birther” campaign, calling Mexican immigrants rapists, countenancing violence at his rallies and all the rest.
Why do so many Republicans who tolerated so much now howl about civil war over a deal with Democrats? I’m skeptical this will turn out to be a real break (Trump’s dealmaking was clearly impromptu), but to the extent it does, it’s not about principle but partisan tribalism. Republicans can stomach just about anything as long as Trump remains a member in good standing of the tribe. But if he favors enemy tribesmen over his own, that’s taboo.
Heading into the 2018 midterms, Republicans increasingly have an incentive to make people think they’re different from the unpopular Trump and that he’s independent of the two-party system. But if Republicans disown Trump now, they still own all the previous Trump actions over which they failed to break with him in any meaningful way.
He’s their you-know-what.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.