Bob Corker: This party is basically a personality cult now

Grand Old Personality Cult. I like the sound of that.

Corker’s core complaint remains the fact that Senate Republicans won’t vote on his tariff bill for fear of offending Trump, but the timing is fortuitous in that he was asked about this just hours after Mark Sanford was purged by South Carolina Republicans for his repeated anti-Trump heresies. He could have gone even deeper into the news cycle for evidence if he’d wanted to. For instance, I watched Ben Shapiro get smacked on Twitter yesterday morning by butthurt Trumpers for reminding the public on TV that North Korea’s government is a collection of untrustworthy degenerates whose evil is virtually unmatched on planet Earth. How dare he diminish the leader’s great foreign policy achievement by belittling our new partner in peace?

Sanford had something to say about this too yesterday, shortly before the purging:

“There’s a different feel to this race, based on something that I’ve never experienced before, which is at times being hit not on ideas that I’ve espoused or held, but based on allegiance,” Mr. Sanford said earlier in the day as he campaigned. “I’ve never experienced that before.”

“With some people,” he added, “the allegiance to ideas is secondary to their belief in the importance of their allegiance to a person.”

Political parties exist to advance policy priorities. Democrats, for example, have spent decades pushing towards universal health care, a large step towards which was taken by ObamaCare and the final step towards which will be single-payer, something they’re increasingly open about. Republicans, on the other hand, have spent decades pushing towards … what? Smaller government? C’mon. Trump doesn’t care about it at all and Republican administrations before him did next to nothing to realize it. Even when they’re handed a golden opportunity to replace a left-wing federal boondoggle with their own system, they end up choking like they did with ObamaCare because they don’t have their own system.

Apart from tax cuts, what policy goals does this alleged “party” have? Protect gun rights, make some approving noises sporadically about abortion being bad — what else? Much has been written about the appeal of “build the wall” but not enough has been written about the fact that it’s an actual concrete policy that seems attainable. You don’t see much of that on the right anymore. In the absence of any agenda to inspire loyalty, naturally loyalties will gravitate towards the person of the leader himself.

I’ll say one thing in qualified defense of Trump, though, in response to this charge:

Is that right? It’s true that Trump holds a grudge if you criticize his behavior but is it true that you can’t criticize policy? I can’t think of a single case where he’s subjected a Republican enemy to the Jeff Flake treatment for doing nothing more than disagreeing with him on policy. Just the opposite, really: I can certainly think of examples of Republicans (Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio) who disagree with him strongly on certain policies but who have cultivated friendly personal relations with him and haven’t been attacked as a result.

The best I can do to come up with a Republican who ended up as an Enemy of the People on the right for doing nothing more than disagreeing with Trump on policy is Dean Heller and John McCain, both of whom crossed POTUS to various degrees on ObamaCare repeal and replace. Heller was an early skeptic of the effort since he hails from a very purple state; Trump made some noise early on about possibly opposing his reelection if he didn’t play ball. Heller did eventually play ball, though, and not only did Trump support him, he helped clear the primary field for him in Nevada by nudging Danny Tarkanian out of the race.

As for Maverick, who cast the fateful no vote that killed ObamaCare repeal, Trump probably would be actively opposing him right now for that if not for the state of his health. Even POTUS has to stand down in the face of public sympathy for the old man. But Trump vs. McCain is more complicated than just the ObamaCare vote. McCain’s disdain for Trump personally (and vice versa) is no secret and his allies have spoken harshly of the president. Trump’s base also hates McCain for a thousand sins against populism committed before Trump became president. Plus, what enraged Trump about McCain sinking O-Care wasn’t the fact that POTUS was in love with the GOP alternative on policy grounds — he famously seemed willing to sign anything the party handed him — but that it denied him the chance to keep a core campaign promise to the right and to smash the cornerstone of Obama’s presidential legacy in the process. It’s not really a policy dispute the way that, say, voting no on funding the wall would be.

Ask yourself this. If McCain had gone out of his way to be otherwise obsequious towards Trump (as hard as that is to imagine), praising him as a superb leader yadda yadda, would Trump have tried to sink him politically for his stance on O-Care? I’m skeptical.

To earn Trump’s wrath and become an Unperson to the base, it’s not enough to disagree with POTUS. You need to disdain him. That’s why Flake, Sanford, John Kasich and a few others are all on the sh*t list and people like Graham, Rubio, Paul, and Heller aren’t. It’s inherent in the idea of a personality cult: Politics is politics but you don’t dare disparage the person of the leader. Some have learned that lesson, those who haven’t are unemployed or soon will be.