I can’t do it, man.
Any time a Republican crosses Trump by taking a stand for a reasonable position, Never Trumpers are supposed to salute him and roll out the welcome wagon. We need more Republicans like this, we say. Brave. Principled. Willing to buck the cult when the cult demands unthinking loyalty. Matt Gaetz’s decision last week to support the House resolution that attempted to constrain Trump’s power to wage war with Iran was a gutsy move whether you agreed with it or not. Only three Republicans voted for it: One is retiring, the other is Ron-Paul-ish libertarian Thomas Massie, the third was … Matt Gaetz (R-MAGA), a guy whose role in the House is usually to play Igor to Trump’s Frankenstein. Does the president need a man to intimidate the witnesses against him or maybe lead a dopey sit-in at the SCIF to protest impeachment? Well, he can rely on Igor. He’s there to serve.
But not this time. There are some things Gaetz cares more about than toadying to the president and war, to his credit, is one of them. “Reclaiming Congressional power is the Constitutional conservative position!” wrote Gaetz’s legislative chief to the Republican caucus in an email the morning of the vote — correctly. In other words, not only did Gaetz end up voting the right way against Trump’s wishes, he actually tried to organize bipartisan support for the resolution. To a Never Trumper, this would normally be cause for the highest honors. An approving comment from Joe Walsh. A flattering mention in a post at the Bulwark. Maybe even the ultimate honor: A #StandWithMattGaetz hashtag on Twitter.
Hasn’t happened. I thought of starting the hashtag and my hand began twitching. He’s just … too MAGA. And yet, because he dared defy Trump on a big vote for reasons as paltry as not wanting to let the president have sole authority to initiate a major Middle Eastern war, he’s also no longer MAGA enough. He’s a man in exile for the moment, until he remembers his place.
Trump fiercely complained about Gaetz after aides informed Trump that his office had sent the email backing the resolution, which was pushed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Trump’s team lobbied heavily against the nonbinding resolution…
A senior White House official said it was “super uncool” and “quite unwise” for Gaetz to push for limits on the president’s authority. This person added that White House officials would not be returning Gaetz’s phone calls, text messages, “smoke signals or his kneelings in the snow.”
Whether Trump will take revenge on the congressman, who has made hundreds of television appearances backing the president and is a frequent visitor at the White House, remains unclear. Trump is often transactional, current and former aides say, and there is probably a path for Gaetz to return to the proverbial tent.
Of course there’s a way back for him into the tent. Once Trump realizes that not only is there no chance the resolution will become law but that it’s not even designed to become law, he’ll calm down. Gaetz will find some new stunts to pull on his behalf and re-ingratiate. He’s already been at pains the last few days to affirm that he supports the strike on Soleimani, he just opposes the prospect of any deeper commitment.
But the fact that there’s even a chance that he might be permanently exiled goes to show that there’s no amount of toadying that can permanently immunize someone from Trump’s wrath. We already knew that from Steve Bannon’s exile, I guess, but watching Gaetz get cold-shouldered is a reminder that “loyalty” means never defying him on something he considers important, even when you have an excellent principled reason to do so and go out of your way to defend the president’s actions to this point. Lindsey Graham must have read this WaPo story about Gaetz in abject horror, knowing that his own exile is and will always be potentially just one bad vote away.
I wonder, in fact, if political pressure from righties will lead to Gaetz reversing his position. A startling new data point on Republican war support from Quinnipiac:
Even allowing for the fact that some Republicans here are simply giving whatever answer is most supportive of Trump personally, 55 percent support is an amazingly high number for war with a country of 80 million people that has proxies all over the region. We’ll see how long Gaetz’s anti-war resolve lasts if, God forbid, things get hot with Iran.
Here’s Mike Lee admitting to Jake Tapper yesterday that yes, he’s worried about the integrity of the intelligence about Iran that’s coming from the administration. I’ve seen some grumbling about Lee online today too even though (a) he quotes chapter and verse about previous falsehoods that were used to instigate or extend wars, (b) there’s no Republican in America who’s done as much to encourage skepticism of U.S. intelligence as the MAGA supremo himself, and (c) the administration has been notably cagey, including with senators like Lee, in explaining just why the threat from Soleimani was so “imminent” in this case.