Not a big deal in itself but noteworthy as a rare sign of discontent with Trump in some evangelical quarters. And also as part of a pattern of right-wing pols and cultural figures becoming a bit more vocal in criticizing Trump lately. Not a lot more; not remotely at the level of a political insurrection. But noticeably more, which is noteworthy at a moment when Democrats are gaining momentum for impeachment.
Pat Robertson is "appalled" by Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria: "The President of the United States is in great danger of losing the mandate of Heaven if he permits this to happen." pic.twitter.com/YGeNYpbGrF
— Right Wing Watch (@RightWingWatch) October 7, 2019
He’s not the only prominent evangelical speaking out. Some Christians were irritated recently by Trump’s decision to tighten the cap on refugees accepted annually by the United States. Now they have his handover of northern Syria to Turkey to wrestle with too.
An invasion by Turkey into NE Syria would pose a grave threat to the region’s Kurds and Christians, endangering the prospects of true religious freedom in the Middle East.https://t.co/zBuf2sCErX
— Tony Perkins (@tperkins) October 5, 2019
I generally support @POTUS on foreign policy & don't want our troops fighting other nations' wars, but a HUGE mistake to abandon Kurds. They've never asked us to do THEIR fighting-just give them tools to defend themselves. They have been faithful allies. We CANNOT abandon them.
— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) October 7, 2019
“Eh, who cares?” Okay, that’s fine, but Trump tends to get anxious when his base starts grumbling. It doesn’t happen often, so when it does happen — on guns, on building the wall, on a blowout spending bill — he pays attention. He’s always believed that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes. That’s largely true, but every now and then he’s given reason to momentarily doubt it. And since his reelection strategy is premised on turning out his loyal voters in overwhelming numbers, a moment where their loyalty suddenly seems in doubt might shake him.
He’s not just getting it from Christian leaders today either. Apart from Rand Paul, Republicans in the Senate are basically unanimous in excoriating him for the Syria pullout. Ted Cruz is usually a reliable soldier for Trump, believing that his 2024 prospects depend on remaining in Trumpers’ good graces. Not today.
Our enemies and rivals (Iran, Russia, etc.) don’t abandon their allies; if we want allies to stand with America in the future, we shouldn’t either. Honorable nations stand by their friends.
— Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz) October 7, 2019
The majority leader, who believes that electoral success depends on a good relationship between Trump and congressional Republicans, sounds unusually contentious too:
McConnell urged Trump to reverse his move, saying “a precipitous withdrawal of US forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime.”
“I urge the President to exercise American leadership to keep together our multinational coalition to defeat ISIS and prevent significant conflict between our NATO ally Turkey and our local Syrian counterterrorism partners,” said McConnell. “Major new conflict between Turkey and our partners in Syria would seriously risk damaging Turkey’s ties to the United States and causing greater isolation for Turkey on the world stage.”
What’s he prepared to do about it? Trump doesn’t want to be embarrassed by a bipartisan vote in Congress slapping sanctions on Turkey, especially if that vote is by veto-proof margins, but that’s what his friend Lindsey Graham is threatening. If McConnell lets that vote happen, it’ll pit the president against his own party on a high-stakes foreign-policy matter. “Even Republicans think Trump is weak and fickle!” Democrats will say of the president getting overruled on Syria. Then, if the sanctions bill passes, the question will become how serious McConnell is in forcing Trump to comply with it. If the president decides he’s going to ignore the new law and not carry out the sanctions, what’s McConnell prepared to do to make him cooperate?
Coincidentally, the Atlantic is out today with a new piece written by Mark “Black Hawk Down” Bowden titled, “Top Military Officers Unload on Trump,” in which various generals aired their grievances (anonymously, of course) about the president’s leadership style. He disdains expertise, he trusts his own instincts above all else, he doesn’t stick to coherent strategies — the criticisms are familiar but they may resonate more among the story’s readers in Congress this evening in light of the Syria news. And then there’s this, which you can make of what you like:
A lot of quiet conversations among conservative thought leaders today about how to prepare for a “post Trump” Republican Party—whether its impeachment or a loss in 2020. People thinking about how that shakes out and where they fit. This is not good for Trump.
— Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons) October 5, 2019
There’s a sense in all of this of people who normally avoid criticizing Trump — evangelical leaders, Senate Republicans, military officers — growing more comfortable doing so lately. The question is why. Is it anger at what Trump is accused of doing with Ukraine? Is it confidence gained from the polls showing public support for the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry? Is it sheer exasperation at the political grief the president has caused lately? It’s one thing to have to defend his Ukraine behavior or to cope with this Syria withdrawal or to shrug off the bad trade-war news or to digest the antic daily tweeting or to ignore the polls showing him getting blown out next year head to head by Biden, but to have to do that all at once is taxing. Some Republicans may be wondering how much more value they’re likely to get from a Trump presidency at this point, with two SCOTUS nominees already in the bag and Trump no better than a 50/50 proposition to be reelected. Even if he does win, with the House likely to remain in Democratic hands next year the GOP will spend his second term incapable of passing anything and at his mercy on foreign policy. Which Republicans on the Hill want to risk him pulling out of South Korea or even out of NATO and then having to either defend him on it or to confront him?
One more point to consider. Trump did his best this weekend to flog Mitt Romney on Twitter for his recent criticism, no doubt hoping to send the message that other Republicans who decide to become critics will get the same treatment. Romney responded today by partnering with Democrat Chris Murphy to demand that the administration come before the Senate and defend its new Syria policy. Presumably that’s his way of showing Trump that he’s not afraid of being called a RINO. As noted, other GOPers don’t seem intimidated today either, from McConnell on down. If Trump hoped to make an example of Romney, it hasn’t worked (yet).