Cornyn: I Totally Opposed Trump, But, You Know, Quietly — Because Speaking Out Against Him is Dangerous
One never knows these things for certain, as 2016 showed us, but Donald Trump sure does appear to be headed for a historic loss. (Gee. That’s too bad.) And one major indicator of that is the way that high-profile Republicans are laying the groundwork for the narrative that they totally opposed this guy all along, man. It started with Ben Sasse’s “leak” of his post-primary “he kisses dictators’ butts” criticism of Trump (followed by Trump’s inevitable but now-toothless Twitter backlash) and now continues with John Cornyn. The paper of my original hometown, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (which my Dad branded the Fort Worth Startlegram) has the report:
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn acknowledged Friday that at times he has disagreed with President Trump on issues such as budget deficits and debt, tariffs and trade agreements and border security.
But, the senior Republican senator from Texas, who is being challenged by Democrat MJ Hegar, said he chose to work on those disagreements with the president’s staff in private discussions, rather than by publicly voicing his opposition.
. . . .
During a meeting with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial Board, Cornyn was asked if he and other Republicans regretted not pushing Trump to combat the COVID-19 virus more aggressively, or rein in some of his political stances that were unpopular or stood little chance of passing in Congress.
Cornyn initially described his relationship with Trump as “maybe like a lot of women who get married and think they’re going to change their spouse, and that doesn’t usually work out very well.”
Cornyn continued: “I think what we found is that we’re not going to change President Trump. He is who he is. You either love him or hate him, and there’s not much in between. What I tried to do is not get into public confrontations and fights with him because, as I’ve observed, those usually don’t end too well.”
It comes as no surprise to people who have been paying attention that this is a very common sentiment among GOP pols in Congress. There are some true believers, like the Matt Gaetzes of the world (or is he Rick Gates, convicted felon — I always get so confused about that!), but of course there is a huge contingent of GOP pols who hold Trump in contempt privately and think he is an ass, but are scared to speak up. Cornyn, in his interview with the Startlegram, explicitly referenced the experience of Bob Corker, who compared the White House to an “adult day care center” causing Trump to sic his base on Corker, forcing his retirement. All of these guys have been biding their time, comparing Trump to a storm (albeit one that lasts four years) that will cause some damage but will eventually blow over. Come next year, Trump will (probably) be gone. Sasse will still be there. Cornyn might still be there. Live to fight another day, right?
And if you’re inclined to be charitable, you can see how someone could come to believe this. Why sacrifice your career when this fever will eventually break? And in the meantime, why antagonize the guy by opposing him publicly when you think private communication will be more effective?
Here’s the problem: you can always rationalize cowardice. But once you’ve resolved to Play Along at All Costs, and nearly everyone around you has decided to play the same game, the atmosphere becomes little different from that of a totalitarian country, where people nervously glance around, not wanting to become the first to stop applauding. And so they’ll stay silent, as the president uses his position to enrich himself personally, alienates allies and embraces thugs, urges his Department of Justice to go easy on his cronies and to prosecute his enemies, incites violence and gives a wink to far-right militia groups, and leverages foreign aid in an attempt to secure a foreign government’s pledge to investigate his political opponent.
And once these people have sacrificed every ounce of integrity they might have ever possessed, in service of holding onto a scrap of power that will soon be marginalized, buried under a monstrous blue wave, what do they have left but to pathetically mewl that they really didn’t support this guy all along — but what did you expect them to do? Say so out loud? In public?
It’s a tough call what to feel about these folks. I feel contempt for Ted Cruz, but in a way I feel sorry for people like Ben Sasse and Mike Lee and John Cornyn. Almost anyone in their position would do the same. (Some would not; some would be like Bob Corker or Jeff Flake, but everyone sees how quickly they became irrelevant, even though they retained their dignity and their souls.) When almost anyone would react to a particular situation in a similar way, the problem lies more with the system than with the people.
And yet. And yet, they were enablers. And while I might sympathize with them, I will never again respect these particular people. Respect is tougher to earn in a harsh environment, and in my gentler moments I’m less inclined to feel fury them. But they have forfeited any legitimate right to command respect.
But again: the real issue is the system. We have to fix things so that a smarter, more ambitious and crafty version of Trump can’t become a real-life dictator in this country. Trump has shown that the soil for such a demagogue is fertile. All it would take is someone more competent in the Oval Office. And that’s frightening.
Having finished Woodward’s and Andrew Weissman’s latest, I am plowing through David French’s book, after which I will tackle After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency, by Bob Bauer and Jack Goldsmith (affiliate link). I’ve read a few pages already and am interested in their ideas.
We have to do something. Because keeping quiet about an insane president, out of fear, is no way to run a country.