Did you hear that crowd?
Trump’s first State of the Union address revealed less about the president’s agenda than it did about how his party feels about Trump. For nearly every sentence that Trump uttered — a collection of half-thoughts on immigration, foreign policy, and (of course) standing during the national anthem — Republican leaders fired back with rapturous applause that seemed to last forever. At one point, the GOP even broke into thunderous chants of, “USA! USA!” that filled the entire chamber. It was the sort of battle cry you’d hear at a college football game, or possibly one of Trump’s infamous campaign rallies: the ones where black protesters were beaten up.
Hopefully Tuesday night’s rally serves at least one useful purpose by finally putting to rest a fantasy that has afflicted liberals, moderates and some conservatives. This affliction is the idea that Republican Party leaders can’t stand Trump and his vulgarian ways — that the GOP is waiting for a crucial milestone (such as tax cuts and austerity measures) before cutting the big guy loose and putting a more “dignified” man like Mike Pence in the captain’s seat. This presumption has convinced many Americans that Trump’s ejection from Washington is imminent.
Too bad it’s not going to happen.
The reception to Trump’s address was an audible reminder that House and Senate Republicans have gone from reluctant enablers to full-blown MAGA evangelists. This is a striking political evolution that became noticeable back in December when the GOP managed to ram its unpopular tax reform bill through Congress. At a victory meeting convened immediately after the bill’s passage, Republican officials took turns lavishing praise upon Trump. This adulation ranged from literal prayers to once-unlikely compliments, such as Orrin Hatch professing that Trump is “one of the best” presidents he has ever served under.
For the elder statesmen of the party who reluctantly embraced Trump after the 2016 primary and publicly grumbled about his bullish behavior throughout last year, this was a turning point. And since that meeting, the Republican Congress has circled its wagons around its new leader.
Right now, we’re witnessing just how far the GOP is willing to go in their effort to not only flatter Trump, but to protect him from the institutions that still have a shot at curtailing his power. The biggest story in Washington this week wasn’t Trump’s address to the nation, but the anticipated release of an unvetted memo alleging surveillance abuses by the FBI: a charge that Trump has been shouting about for months. The author of the memo is Devin Nunes, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee and the intent couldn’t be clearer — the timing of the memo release is intended to delegitimize the FBI and foment support for shutting down Robert Mueller’s investigation of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian oligarchs. Many of Nunes’s colleagues have approved releasing the memo: House Speaker Paul Ryan even suggested that the FBI is overdue for “a cleanse” and that the memo release could initiate that.
What kind of party tries to slander and disempower America’s federal law enforcement agency?
A party whose stock is not only invested in a president with a history of dodgy financial enterprises, but whose goals lines up nicely with that president’s agenda.
The dream of a GOP revolt against Trump is partially founded on the idea that what Trump ultimately wants is different from the Republican Party’s legislative laundry list.
This is not true.
Trump and the GOP leadership both believe in austerity for working Americans, tax cuts for the wealthy, fossil fuel as America’s de facto energy source, severe limits on immigration, and — this is easily the scariest shared dream — expanding America’s nuclear weapons arsenal. All of these line items constitute party orthodoxy that the Republican leaders couldn’t convert into policy until Trump ended up headlining the 2016 RNC Convention and winning the presidency.
At this year's State of the Union, the GOP’s ecstatic gratitude for Trump was on full, audible display. Their excitement was palpable too. The Republican Party’s 2018 midterm odds might be getting spottier, but the party still has almost an entire year to run hog wild with Trump and make more legislative dreams come true, regardless of public sentiment. The tax reform fight was their trial balloon and with that bill signed into policy by Trump, we should be ready for all manner of actions that fly in the face of how most Americans feel. We didn’t want dystopian tax cuts that benefit the rich, but we got them anyway. Most of us don’t want the Mueller investigation to be mothballed before it’s over, but it’s looking like that might happen soon.
There’s only one way to stop the Trump agenda from fully coming to pass: accepting that most of today’s Republican lawmakers support that agenda, and committing to remove them from office at the soonest electoral opportunity. These men and women are not going to “save us.”
That’s our job.