Over the weekend, President Donald Trump issued a fusillade of falsehoods – from erroneous claims about voting machines changing votes to unfounded claims that he actually won the election. His Twitter feed read like the a delusional conspiracy theorist. He continued to play golf and, well, not do much else.
Surely this increasingly erratic behavior – particularly concerning the necessary transition to the oncoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden – would lead Republican elected officials to step in, en masse, to condemn him and insist that the time has come for him to step aside? Right? RIGHT?!?!
“We invited every single Republican senator to appear here on @MeetThePress this morning,” NBC’s Chuck Todd said Sunday morning. “They all declined.”
In fact, according to Sunday show guests aggregated by Politico, there wasn’t a single Republican member of Congress – senator or House members – on the major shows on any network. (The only show where Republican members appeared was “Sunday Morning Futures,” which is hosted by pro-Trump anchor Maria Bartiromo.)
That is absolutely remarkable. Sunday talk shows are the bread and butter of aspiring politicians. They scrap and fight for coveted slots on those shows, knowing that the permanent political class watches them religiously – and that if you want to get your name out top donors, the media and the rest, doing a series of Sunday show appearances is a really good way to do that.
And yet, not one Republican appeared on any of the major shows. And this is less than two weeks after the 2020 election! With lots and lots of people still paying close attention to politics!
Why? Simple: None of them wanted to a) defend Trump’s tweets or b) tell the President to tone it down, thereby incurring the wrath of the man who is, without question, still the most powerful person in GOP politics.
This is, in a word, gutless. Republicans are still running scared of Trump despite that a) in less than 10 weeks he will be an EX-president of the United States and b) by any objective measure, his words and actions post-election have been at best deeply irresponsible and at worst dangerous to our democracy.
Normally, you can’t walk 50 feet in the US Capitol without a member of Congress reminding you that the legislative branch is a co-equal branch of government with the executive. (Senator-elect Tommy Tuberville, pay attention!) Senators, in particular, bristle at the idea that they are lesser than the President. They actually write and pass the legislation, all the President does is sign it (or not), after all!
And yet, when given the chance to reclaim the Republican Party (or at least begin the reclamation process) from a soon-to-be-former president who has exploded many of the pillars on which the GOP was built, not ONE GOP senator stepped forward.
Which is a bigger problem for the Republican Party than even what Trump has done to tarnish the GOP brand over his four years in office. Because it suggests that there is no one willing to lead the party into any sort of post-Trump era. Or even to try. Because they are all cowed by Trump and afraid that taking him on – even as it’s totally clear that he has lost the presidency – amounts to a political kamikaze mission.
This is not what leadership looks like. Hiding in the shadows and hoping someone else steps forward to say something isn’t what we expect in our elected officials. Cowering in fear of your party’s base isn’t, either.
What Republican senators are doing here is ceding the field to the President and his barrage of braggadocio and, well, bull. That vacuum of leadership means that millions of Americans are either convinced or on their way to being convinced that the election really was stolen from Trump despite the total lack of evidence to back up that claim.
That stance may reap short-term dividends for Republicans by keeping their base fired up in advance of the two Senate runoffs in Georgia in January. But the longer-term consequences for the party are not just bad for Republicans but for the country. If Trump continues to be unchallenged in his untruths, he will just do it more. And our inability as a country to agree on an objective set of facts will erode even further than it already has.