Apart from the intermittent foreign-policy brawling between Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul, I can’t think of a recent case of one Republican senator targeting another this bluntly. Even Jeff Flake rarely got dinged by his GOP colleagues in the Senate after Trump and the entire party base had turned against him.
It’s unusual. I wonder if Kelly Loeffler, being so new, realizes how unusual it is. And whether anyone in the leadership might have a word with her about it.
It’s ironic too. After she emerged as a frontrunner in December for the seat vacated by Johnny Isakson in Georgia, some righties made a fuss that she was a RINO-in-waiting. Who was she, after all? A businesswoman with a thin political record, who’d donated to Democrats in the past, who sat on the board of a hospital that employed several doctors who performed abortions in their outside practice. Why the hell would Brian Kemp roll the dice on her when he could have appointed a loud-and-proud Trump apologist like Doug Collins to the seat instead?
I wasn’t worried, though. Let me quote myself on December 2:
There’s unlikely to be a single Republican vote to remove Trump at this point. And to the extent that there is, it won’t come from Loeffler. The whole point of appointing her to this vacancy is to set her up to run for a full term in 2020. If she voted to remove Trump, she’d be dead on arrival in the 2020 jungle primary and she surely understands that. She’s as much of a lock to oppose removal as Collins is, if only for reasons of self-interest. Maybe even more since she needs to make some big gestures to ingratiate herself to skeptical Trump fans.
Does this count as a big gesture? It’s a gesture, big or not:
After 2 weeks, it’s clear that Democrats have no case for impeachment. Sadly, my colleague @SenatorRomney wants to appease the left by calling witnesses who will slander the @realDonaldTrump during their 15 minutes of fame. The circus is over. It’s time to move on! #gapol
— Senator Kelly Loeffler (@SenatorLoeffler) January 27, 2020
She’s outraged! Sort of:
Just noting that Loeffler and her husband Jeffrey Sprecher gave a total of $1.5 million to Romney’s 2012 super PAC Restore Our Future, according to Open Secrets.https://t.co/K1IEtU7u0w https://t.co/Xho0gh3ukR
— Mike Warren (@MichaelRWarren) January 27, 2020
Her tweet today is nothing more or less than her version of the stunt Martha McSally pulled when she called one of CNN’s reporters a “liberal hack,” except Loeffler went the extra mile by demagoging the Trump base’s least favorite centrist Republican instead of the media. The topic in both incidents was the same, whether the Senate should agree to call additional witnesses like John Bolton. When Raju put that perfectly germane question to McSally, she snapped at him. When Romney observed this morning, entirely accurately, that the Senate was more likely to call witnesses in light of last night’s NYT scoop about Bolton (possibly even with support from Lindsey Graham), Loeffler snapped at him. The goal in both cases was the same too, to convince MAGA fans that they should support — and donate to — a newbie Republican senator whose Trumpist loyalties have yet to be established.
Would a RINO call a CNN reporter a liberal hack to his face?
Would a RINO accuse Mitt Romney of appeasing the left?
Loeffler needs cheap populist cred even more than McSally does, as there’s no question that McSally will be the nominee of her party in Arizona this year. There *is* some doubt whether Loeffler will finish in the top two in Georgia’s jungle primary if Collins or some other well-known MAGA Republican in the state jumped into the race. The Trumpier she acts, the less room there is for Collins in the primary and the more likely it is that Trump will endorse her, clearing the field. Scroll through her Twitter feed and you’ll find it’s brimming with posts harshly criticizing impeachment, which is no coincidence. She has to prove to righties that she’ll be an unwavering servant to the president. She’s working hard to do that, up to and including dinging Trump’s least favorite Republican senator with “own the libs”-type jabs.
Does it work, though? Is there a single Trump fan anywhere who doesn’t instantly see through what she’s trying to do? She’s a business-class country-club Republican. On Earth 2, where President Romney is wrapping up his second term in office, she remains one of his most devoted supporters and generous political benefactors.
I think everyone sees through it. The point of this embarrassing shot at Romney isn’t to convince the reader that she’s a true-blue Trumper, it’s to prove that she’s willing to play the part if they’re willing to support her in return. From a voter’s perspective, one is as good as the other. So long as Loeffler is voting the way Trump wants her to vote and saying the things Trump wants her to say, it’s academic whether she wants to or not. That’s between her and what’s left of her dignity.
The dig at Romney isn’t the only noteworthy part of her tweet. Accusing John Bolton of “slander” in order to gain “15 minutes of fame” is an … interesting take on a guy who was held in high regard by righties generally and Fox News specifically for most of the last 20 years, right up until he left Trump’s employ. Rich Lowry has been on Trump’s side throughout the impeachment process but he’s annoyed today at the “smear campaign” that’s been launched to retcon Bolton as a lying grifter. Another Trump impeachment ally, Andy McCarthy, complains in a new piece that the revelation in Bolton’s book only proves what any decent lawyer knew from the start, that Trump never should have gone all-in on his dopey “no quid pro quo” defense. Because he’s an egomaniac who needs to be vindicated in every dispute, he insisted on that far-fetched argument when it would have been much easier to say that what he did with Ukraine simply isn’t an impeachable offense, whatever the facts may be.
Prosecutors do not need someone to admit, “there is a quid pro quo” in order to prove one. And when someone says, “there is no quid pro quo,” but then acts as if there is one (under different names, such as “stalemate” and “do the right thing”), that can actually improve the prosecutor’s case…
If the Trump defense had taken the position that we should assume for argument’s sake that the president put pressure on Ukraine but, in the end, he folded, the Bolton revelation would be a big nothing. The president’s team could have said it is just more of what we already knew.
They could have stayed on the ground where they are strongest: Nothing happened. All foreign policy involves pressure and quid pro quo. There is a good-faith basis to suspect the Bidens were involved in corrupt self-dealing. It is ridiculous to suggest that Ukraine’s defense, let alone American national security, was in any way compromised. President Trump has done much more to protect Ukraine from Russia than President Obama and the Democrats did — indeed, some of the Democratic House impeachment managers voted against the very aid to Ukraine, the brief, inconsequential withholding of which they now feign outrage about.
If in fact Bolton confirms what’s alleged in the Times report, that Trump personally told him there was a “military aid for dirt on Democrats” deal with Ukraine, it won’t change the outcome of the trial but it will force Senate Republicans to break with the White House in how they justify the verdict. Trump will cry “Vindication!”, Senate Republicans will mumble that what he did was bad but not impeachable. The latter will be much closer to the truth. Which of those two camps do you suppose Kelly Loeffler will associate herself with?