You have to wonder what Jeff Flake and Bob Corker are thinking today. I’m sure neither were expecting their Sunday to be this quiet. These two stalwart bedrock pillar Senate Republicans dropped a couple of building-sized bricks on the White House last week, and all that came of the resulting DONK was yet another hashtagged rhetorical victory lap by Donald Trump.
According to normal political gravity, this was the sun rising in the West. Flake and Corker took Reagan’s 11th Commandment — “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican” – and fed it to the bears. Two major figures within the GOP brutally attacked a sitting Republican president on national television, using phrases like “debasing the nation” and “flagrant disregard for truth or decency,” and in any other time in US history, it would have been a nine-days wonder.
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It should be noted that Flake and Corker’s words assailing Trump do not bump them to the head of the line for beatification. Their profile in courage is shorter than the flyers you find on your windshield. Flake happily voted several times to strip millions of Americans of their health insurance not long ago, and Corker just voted to blow up a major consumer protection regulation. Both have voted with Trump 90 percent of the time.
It is the fact of their right-wing street cred that makes this situation all the more remarkable. If normal political gravity still existed, these senators’ statements would rank right up there with the “Have you left no sense of decency?” line attorney Joseph Welch deployed to obliterate Joseph McCarthy in 1954. The dam holding back an ocean of congressional resentment should have broken, and the resulting political flood tide should have gone through 1600 Pennsylvania like the rivers that flushed out the Augean stables … and yet, here we sit on this quiet Sunday, with Flake and Corker left to plumb the mysteries of Mallard Fillmore in the funny pages while wrestling with perhaps the greatest imponderable of the age.
What do you have to do to make a damn dent?
Here are two major players in their party swinging baseball bats at their own leader, and in less time than it takes to type 140 characters, Donald Trump and Steve Bannon were lighting bonfires and howling at the moon. They’re losers, they can’t win, they’re quitters … and the crowd in their MAGA hats, of course, went wild.
Fact: Donald Trump is a feckless racist catastrophe who would gladly light the world on fire just to see his name printed in the last newspaper ever published. This is fairly common knowledge now. Fish swimming in the eternal night of the Marianas Trench know the president of the United States is an exceedingly dangerous clod, and yet he rumbles on like some colossal ball of pumpkin cobbler gone wild on hubris.
How? Why? What do you have to do? It’s the most important question in the world right now, and we need to find a new answer, because all the ones we’ve come up with to date are lying by the side of the road with truck tracks up their backs. It has not been pretty, and a great many people today are wandering through life in a daze, wondering when they’re going to wake up.
I don’t have all the answers, but one is fairly self-evident: Math. About 20-30 percent of US voters are Trump supporters to the teeth. They are comprised of one of the strangest amalgamations in US political history — some evangelicals, some wealthy whites, some rural poor whites, some underemployed blue-collar white laborers, some reality TV fans — and in their eyes, Trump can do no wrong. By itself, this is not a massive coalition, but it becomes truly muscular when:
1. Half the country doesn’t vote in the general election;
2. Two-thirds of the country doesn’t vote in primaries or in the midterm elections.
That 20-30 percent becomes a juggernaut under such circumstances, and such circumstances are exactly what we’ve had here in the US for going on 50 years. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker might have thought they were sounding the charge for a congressional revolution against Trump, but every single Republican under that dome can read a polling sheet just fine, thank you, and they were not about to buck that trend. In the modern GOP, opposing Trump in even the smallest fashion has become the new third rail of politics: Touch it, and you die.
Plus, the GOP paymasters want their trillion dollar tax cut, and they have no interest in letting their hired help muck things up with an inter-party civil war before that gets done and signed. The keys to the Treasury dangle only just out of reach. Flake and Corker picked the wrong week to be ersatz heroes.
What do you have to do to make a dent? Here’s a thought: Stop trying to convince Trump supporters they’re wrong. You may as well try to convince Patriots fans that Tom Brady is a cheater. You will fail, because they won’t believe you, and furthermore they don’t care. The national spleen is being vented, and right now they love the smell of bile.
This isn’t about ignorance or political naivete. This is quite simply what some people, fueled largely by bigotry and fear, want, and they are so eager for it that they will do as instructed and see each defeat as a victory for people like them. There is no reaching past that. They believe, and they belong, and for a certain breed of cat, that is the richest cream of all. To quote another Patriot, it is what it is.
You can’t fix that. You have to beat it. This is hardly impossible. Trump may sound like everything is going his way, but that is more deception.
He made former Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions his attorney general. The fellow tapped to replace Sessions lost in the primary to genuine theocratic fascist Roy Moore. Thanks to a high level of revulsion statewide for Moore (even among many Republicans), the state of Alabama might fail to elect a Republican to the Senate for the first time in 20 years.
Across the continent, the looming departures of Jeff Flake and John McCain have the state of Arizona set to send a whole new slate to the Senate. These would normally be two safe Republican seats but for the Trump Factor, which has inspired the Roy Moores of the country to run for high office. Some of the people who stand a good chance of becoming Republican nominees for these Arizona Senate seats truly make Trump look like Cato the Elder.
It is not beyond the realm of possibility for the GOP to lose one, both or all three of those seats, simply by dint of who Trump’s supporters choose to back. If Steve Bannon has his way, Trump’s people will go all in for the anti-establishment candidates. Mitch McConnell hates everything right now, and his caucus of cowards have only themselves to blame.
Two states, three seats, and hats over the windmill. There are many paths to activism, but in the meantime, don’t squander your energy trying to crack the façade of the true believers. That, among other things, is bad strategy. Instead, fight to win, period