Hannity: These pathetic, weak, gutless, spineless NeverTrumper Republicans need to pass some bills
Via Red State, he handled the affront of Corker and Flake attacking Trump yesterday about as well as could be expected. The opening invective about gutless and spineless NeverTrumpers is particularly Trumpy, although Corker and Flake earned some of that by refusing to face the voters again next year.
Anyway, a few points:
1. The graphic lists Corker and McCain as “Never Trumpers.” That’s half true. Flake never endorsed Trump last year but Corker did, of course, and was even in contention for a cabinet appointment. His souring on Trump came this year, when after watching POTUS for a few months he evidently concluded that the guy simply isn’t up to the job. He’s “Formerly Trump,” not “Never Trump.” (Or “Never Again Trump,” if you prefer.) McCain also very grudgingly endorsed Trump last year then rescinded the endorsement after the “Access Hollywood” tape appeared. Who knows what he would have done if he hadn’t been on the ballot with Trump in Arizona.
2. Hannity’s right of course that Flake would have been a goner if he had run again in Arizona. He insists that Corker would have been a goner too. That’s debatable. A Corker who spent the next six months laying into Trump every day in front of reporters would have had a rough go of it, but I assume the reason Corker’s been speaking out more over the past few months is that he decided some time ago not to run for reelection and has taken full advantage to vent. Absent his vocal criticism of Trump, there’s no reason to think he couldn’t have survived a primary challenge in Tennessee and then sailed to an easy victory in the general. According to Corker himself, Trump privately offered to endorse him repeatedly. Which brings us to the most important point.
3. Hannity’s using sleight of hand here in suggesting that his big problem with “Never Trumpers” and their fellow travelers in the GOP caucus is that they aren’t moving Trump’s agenda. But half the people he names, including Corker and Flake, have reliably voted to do what Trump wants. He’s right that McCain, Collins, and Murkowski have been thorns in the president’s side on health care but McConnell, Cornyn, Sasse, Corker, and Flake have been good soldiers for the most part, however reluctantly. How good?
Which bill that Trump supports has McConnell refused to try to pass for him? The only real policy resistance he’s showed the White House has been on ending the legislative filibuster, but the filibuster hasn’t hobbled Trump for the most part. He’s been blocked by a unified Democratic opposition plus just enough wayward Republicans in McCain, Collins, and Murkowski to keep McConnell from getting to 50 votes. Trump’s greatest victory, the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, was made possible only because McConnell first blocked Merrick Garland’s confirmation last year and then *did* nuke the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations. He brought three different health-care bills to the floor, only to have all three fall short of 50. He’s trying to push through tax reform as we speak but keeps getting sidetracked by the Trump Twitter feud du jour. It’s fine to want him replaced as majority leader because he can’t deliver 50 votes, but how is his replacement going to bring McCain et al. back into the fold?
All of which is to say, what’s irking Hannity about each of these Republicans isn’t that they’ve failed to try to move Trump’s agenda — most of them have tried — it’s that they’ve been disobedient towards the president, sometimes in a major way by voting against him but sometimes in more minor ways by merely criticizing him, a la Sasse and Flake. (Not really Cornyn, though. I assume he’s on Hannity’s sh*t list only because he’s McConnell’s right-hand man and thus hating on him adds a little more populist spice to the rant.) Hannity’s framing his irritation as a critique of legislative paralysis because that seems high-minded and substantive: It’s understandable that Republican voters would be frustrated that they can’t pass bills even with total control of government. In reality, though, what’s pissing him off is that Trump’s Republican critics won’t shut the hell up already. He actually has the stones to smack Flake for attacking the president because it’s a distraction from getting things done, as if Trump doesn’t spend most of his time as president engaged in pointless Twitter smackdowns, media-baiting, and cultural feuds to entertain the right. There’s ample reason to believe he cares more about those cultural battles than he does about governing, in fact:
If Trump is an inconsistent warrior on health care — he has flip-flopped several times over the past few days on the administration’s position on the cost-sharing reduction the federal government has doled out to insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act, for example — he has been remarkably steady on the sort of cultural issues that animate his base. Indeed, the president has mounted the sort of disciplined public communications campaigns on issues many have labeled distractions — the sort that his predecessors have devoted to legislative initiatives…
From the beginning, Trump has staked his political career on “cultural competence, not on policy competence,” according to Amy Walter, senior editor of the Cook Political Report. “I think what he does more than anyone is keeps coming back to the cultural issues as a way to keep reminding voters why they supported him in the first place.”
Cultural battles and political feuds with establishmentarians aren’t a distraction from Trump’s legislative agenda, Trump’s legislative agenda is a distraction from his cultural battles and political feuds. Hannity’s annoyed, I think, that for once a pair of Republican senators engaged the president on that turf and hit him hard. That’s their supposedly disqualifying offense. Why else would you want Corker and Flake out of Washington when they’re otherwise busy rubber-stamping most of what Trump places in front of them? It’s not about policy, and to the extent that it is, it’s simply about handing Trump a “win” by passing something. That’s why he was willing to sign any bill Republicans passed on health care. The policy doesn’t matter, the winning does.
If you’re desperate to tie this back to policy, though, a much shrewder point was made by Michael Brendan Dougherty: “What Flake doesn’t get is that Trump’s culture war belligerency is the first time many GOP voters feel the party is doing something for them.” Precisely right. The smarter, deeper critique of Flake Republicans is that they’ve been so remiss in delivering for their working-class base economically and internationally that they created conditions in which all a populist president needs to do to earn their undying loyalty is get the NFL to oppose kneeling for the national anthem. It’s their do-nothing, or do-ill, track record *before* Trump became president that Hannity should be fuming at. But of course he was supporting most of these people back then.