For now, though, Trump is dead-set on keeping a party that has indulged him, enabled him and been enabled by him at every pass onside for one more battle. The results of those efforts, though, have been uneven. The decision to dash his veto of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, which Trump opposed because it didn’t strike legal protections for social media companies and included a provision to rename military bases named after Confederate leaders, marked the first time during Trump’s presidency that Republicans openly and materially rejected his desires.
“Our Republican Senate just missed the opportunity to get rid of Section 230, which gives unlimited power to Big Tech companies. Pathetic!!!,” Trump blared. “Now they want to give people ravaged by the China Virus $600, rather than the $2000 which they so desperately need. Not fair, or smart!”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rubbed salt in the wound in a statement after the Senate vote. Her chamber, too, had, with Republican support, overridden Trump’s veto.
“The full United States Congress, with these sweeping and overwhelmingly bipartisan votes, has delivered a resounding rebuke to President Trump’s reckless assault on America’s military and national security,” the California Democrat said. “In three weeks, our country will inaugurate a President who respects our military, protects our security and honors the will of the Congress. Until then, the Congress urges Trump to end his desperate and dangerous sabotage.”
That seems unlikely.
One last loyalty test
That, it appears, is the elusive bridge too far for McConnell. Having mined Trump’s presidency for years as he installed conservative judges — including three to the Supreme Court — and passing massive corporate tax cuts, the majority leader is not on board this time around. Looking ahead to the 2022 midterms and the next general election two years later, he knows his members’ actions could be used against them, no matter what direction they go, in future campaigns.
Trump retweeted Hawley’s statement on Friday and layered it with a promise to — on January 6 — reveal “massive amounts of evidence” to support fraud claims that have been tossed out of dozens of courts around the country and dismissed by Republican state lawmakers and nonpartisan election officials.
Before Hawley’s decision, Thune — the Senate majority whip — had played down rumors anyone from his conference would join the electoral college challenge, telling reporters a couple weeks ago any attempt “would go down like a shot dog.”
“I just don’t think it makes a lot of sense,” he added then, “to put everybody through this when you know what the ultimate outcome is going to be.”
Dissent in the GOP ranks
Meanwhile, fissures in the Senate GOP are opening up as the prospect of a vote becomes more real.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski defended Thune and called it “dispiriting” that Trump was “working to pit Republican against Republican.” She also expressed frustration that the President was complicating life for Republicans who had stood by him throughout his term.
“I think it’s quite interesting that he has demanded a loyalty test from so many Republicans and then when they are loyal to him — and there is one incident, one statement — and he is the first one to throw those loyal individuals under the bus,” Murkowski told CNN. “That’s not loyalty as I know loyalty,” added the Alaska Republican, who’s no stranger to internecine contests, having been defeated in a 2010 GOP primary only to win another term in a write-in campaign that year.
It is, however, precisely how Trump understands the concept — as a one-way street, with fidelity to him a requirement demanding precisely nothing in return. For his part, Thune on Friday shrugged off Trump’s tweet, asking reporters as he left the Capitol, “What took him so long?”
“Let’s be clear what is happening here: We have a bunch of ambitious politicians who think there’s a quick way to tap into the president’s populist base without doing any real, long-term damage,” Sasse wrote. “But they’re wrong — and this issue is bigger than anyone’s personal ambitions. Adults don’t point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government.”
Hawley and his allies will be yielding something more like a leaky water pistol, but their actions combined with Trump’s rhetoric, doomed though they all are to fail, represent a cynical ploy for short-term personal gain at the expense of further damaging the already tattered social fabric underlying American democracy.
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, one of the few Republicans in Washington who has occasionally broken from Trump, expressed concern on Friday about the stunt.
“It continues to spread the false rumor that somehow the election was stolen,” Romney said. “Spreading this kind of rumor about our election system not working is dangerous for democracy here and abroad.”
Retiring Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander and West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, who was reelected in 2020, on Friday made public their disagreement with Hawley. But fellow Republican Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana said he was yet to decide whether to join him, despite suggesting that doing so would effectively amount to a “protest vote.” Braun’s current term comes up in four years and the complications seeded by a potential vote are surely weighing on him.
Pence gets reprieve from judge
Even Vice President Mike Pence, who has been on vacation and mostly out of sight, has quietly sought to extract himself from the mess, despite the best attempts of Arizona Republicans and one House Republican to make him its centerpiece.
Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert and the Arizona group filed a lawsuit effectively asking that Pence be empowered to toss out the electoral college results. Under the law, the vice president’s role is largely — as Gohmert’s Friday brief puts it, rather accurately — to play emcee to a “perfunctory coronation” of the next president.
Justice Department lawyers, on Pence’s behalf, had trashed the maneuver, writing that “a suit to establish that the Vice President has discretion over the count, filed against the Vice President, is a walking legal contradiction.”
Pence has not himself spoken out about the process, or what role he might or might not seek to play, but in the meantime he is headed down to Georgia — remember Georgia? — on Monday to stump for Perdue and Loeffler.
Trump will be there, too, but a few hours away, campaigning in a county he won by 40 percentage points.