John Thune on Corker and Flake: Maybe we should keep family disputes within the family

Interesting choice of words. Unwittingly he’s making a counterpoint here to what Ben Sasse said the other day about how he prioritizes his loyalties. I’m a Christian first, said Sasse, then a husband, a dad, an American, a conservative, and down around 37th on the list, I’m a Republican. Thune doesn’t really mean to equate party with family, of course, but it’s telling that he’d reach for that as a metaphor to try to capture the degree of loyalty that’s expected of senators towards Trump. It’s fine to yell at dad across the dinner table but badmouthing him to strangers is crossing the line.

The better analogy would have been to religion. What else do Corker and Flake stand accused of, if not blasphemy? That’s why Hannity’s so ticked off at them even though they vote with Trump on damn near everything. To be a member of the faith in good standing, you need to do more than just go through the motions in church every Sunday.

The Senate’s third-ranking Republican ripped his retiring colleagues for their criticisms of President Trump.

In an interview with NPR’s David Greene, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said that it would have been better if Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) had expressed their criticisms of Trump in private, rather than in public.

“I think that there are always going to be differences of opinion and disagreements, and that’s true in any family,” Thune said. “But I just think it’s better if you can keep those in-the-family feuds and fights within the family.”

Right, I know, Reagan’s 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” The 11th Commandment has been dead for longer than Reagan himself has. In fact, right-wing populism *requires* frequent and ardent violations of the 11th Commandment. No one gives a wet fart about it when it’s Steve Bannon laying into Mitch McConnell, and no one should. It’d be bananas for a party in the throes of an ideological struggle, as the GOP is now, to have a “no public criticism of fellow members!” rule. Trump has never respected the 11th Commandment either, whether as a private citizen or as a presidential candidate. Within a month of him joining the race in 2015 he was onstage in Iowa goofing on McCain’s valor as a POW. He frequently stooped to unnecessarily nasty insinuations about his opponents on the stump, like hinting about “spilling the beans” on Heidi Cruz and the bizarre rumor about Ted Cruz’s father and the Kennedy assassination. To return to Thune’s analogy, what kind of “family” attitude is that? If dad is frequently abusive to the rest of the family, maybe he needs to get punched in the face now and then to keep him in line.

The “family” analogy reminds me of a sharp point about identity politics and intensifying partisanship from Mary Eberstadt:

In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of how democratic governance shapes familial relations, rendering fathers and sons more equal and closer and less hierarchical than they are in its aristocratic counterparts. If it’s obvious that a form of government can shape the family, isn’t it even more obvious that the first polity to which future citizens belong—the family—will shape the kind of citizens they become?

Our macro-politics have gone tribal because our micro-politics are no longer familial. This, above all, is what’s happened during the five decades in which identity politics went from being unheard of to ubiquitous.

As families have broken down and community ties have weakened over the past 50 years — what Eberstadt calls “kinship dislocations” — people are left to grasp for alternate ways of identifying themselves. Identity politics is one obvious option, partisan tribalism is another. Those two options intermingle too, as with what Sasse said about “white backlash grievance” fueling the sort of nationalism that has Roy Moore poised to enter the Senate. The political tribe takes on a familial power, and as it does, the pressure on members not to go airing the family’s dirty laundry, like Corker and Flake did this week, grows heavier.

Here’s Ted Cruz being asked about Corker and Flake a few days ago and encouraging them to “shut up and do your job.” Cruz and Thune both wish first and foremost, I’m sure, that *Trump* would shut up and focus on the task at hand, but they can’t say that. Family etiquette won’t allow it. The only way to try to get through to him is with these general “I wish everyone would stop attacking each other publicly” statements ostensibly aimed at their colleagues in the Senate.