Trump, sitting next to Jeff Flake: There's a spirit of unity in the GOP like people have never seen before

Worth watching just for Flake’s facial expressions. Who decided to sit him and Trump next to each other at today’s lunch, anyway? Was that Trump’s idea of trying to intimidate him or just the master showman knowing an opportunity for drama when he sees one?

The spirit of unity is alive and well in the RNC’s decision to wade back into Alabama on Roy Moore’s side:

“Oh man,” said a source close to the RNC. “It’s embarrassing.”…

“I think it’s further proof that Trump is remaking the party in his own image,” one Senate staffer told BuzzFeed News. “Which is exactly what I predicted would happen when he got elected. Elected Republicans in Congress have little (if any) leverage over him and principled conservatives have very little (if any) left of the party we once belonged to.”…

“My immediate reaction was, are you kidding me?” [a] former [RNC] official said. “I just think it makes them look foolish and indecisive. I think it’s ridiculous. It’s just bad for credibility. It’s a bad move. You have to make decisions and stick with them. The fact is, nothing has changed. If there had been a development that exonerates Moore, that’d be one thing, but there hasn’t been.”

It was alive and well in Flake cutting a check to Moore’s Democratic opponent this afternoon. And unity is positively flourishing at the grassroots level:

Three in ten Republicans — 31 percent — say that they’d like to see a different GOP nominee in the next presidential election, while 63 percent say they’re happy with the current president running for reelection as the party’s standard-bearer.

While Trump’s support for reelection is solid among those who backed his 2016 run, he has done little to assuage the concerns of Republicans who supported one of his opponents during the 2016 GOP primary. Among Republicans who didn’t back Trump’s primary run, 60 percent say they would prefer to replace him on the ballot for 2020, while just 34 percent want him to be the nominee.

Rod Dreher raises an interesting possibility that occurred to me last night too: Could Moore’s election to the Senate cause a schism among congressional Republicans, whether formal or informal? “My guess is that it will be a de facto schism,” writes Dreher, “one that plays itself out in a much more contentious Senate, and perhaps House too, as many Republican members worry about facing voters with Trump and Moore dangling from their necks.” The party’s not going to expel Moore; the chorus next week if he wins will be “the people have spoken.” But the spectacle of Moore winning an election with so much personal and political baggage hanging off of him may drive some GOPers on the Hill into de facto, if not de jure, independence.

I wonder what would happen if Collins and Murkowski suddenly declared themselves independents. Murkowski’s already won election as an independent via a write-in campaign and Collins pulled more than two-thirds of the vote in Maine the last time she ran for reelection. If anyone could win without a party endorsement, she could. Neither one is facing voters next year either. The big risk for them would be losing their committee assignments by quitting the party but they have leverage over McConnell there: He can’t afford to alienate them so much that they’d consider caucusing with Democrats, which could hand Schumer a majority depending on what happens next fall. McConnell might be willing to leave them in place on their committees in return for them continuing to caucus with the GOP as independents, a la Bernie Sanders and Angus King across the aisle. What’s stopping them?