President Donald Trump continued his attacks on prominent Senate
Republicans on Thursday, saying that South Carolina Sen. Lindsey
Graham was “publicity seeking” and calling Arizona Sen. Jeff
Flake “weak” and “toxic” amid condemnation from Republican
lawmakers over his muddled response to last weekend’s violence in
The president said on Tuesday that there was “blame on both
sides” for the violence that erupted between white supremacists
and counterprotesters last Saturday, prompting a swift and
critical response from prominent Republican senators like Graham,
Bob Corker, Richard Burr, Orrin Hatch, and Thom Tillis.
“The President has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability
nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order
to be successful,” Corker said on Thursday in
response to Trump’s comments.
“When it comes to white supremacists & neo-nazis, there can
be no equivocating: they’re propagators of hate and bigotry,”
tweeted Tillis. “Period.”
The tension between the president and members of his own party
had long been simmering given Trump’s willingness to feud with
Republicans he perceives as unfairly critical or insufficiently
loyal. But GOP lawmakers have typically stopped short of
criticizing the president directly, even when denouncing his
recent attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Senate
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Now, Trump’s defense of a white nationalist protest, plummeting
poll numbers, and constant undermining of the establishment GOP —
which he effectively cut ties with when he fired former chief of
staff Reince Priebus — have raised questions about whether
Republicans are getting closer to abandoning him.
“We don’t have to wonder about it,” said Republican strategist
Rick Tyler, the former spokesman for Ted Cruz’s presidential
campaign. “It’s known. It’s like speculating what will happen if
we keep driving the car on empty. The motor will eventually stop
Trump’s attacks on key Republican lawmakers like Sens. John
McCain, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Lisa Murkowski have
undoubtedly hurt his chances of accomplishing legislative
priorities such as tax reform and funding for a border wall.
“If any legislation passes it will be in spite of Trump, not
because of him,” Greg Valliere, chief investment officer and
long-time political analyst at Horizon Investments, wrote in a
note to clients on Thursday.
Tyler, meanwhile, said “Trump’s hopes of getting any significant
legislation to his desk now are nil.”
Longer-term, however, Trump may be faced with a bigger obstacle
to policy wins than a hostile Congress — impeachment.
FBI special counsel Robert Mueller, who is currently
investigating whether Trump’s presidential campaign colluded with
Russia during the election, can’t move to remove Trump from
office if he finds that Trump has committed a crime. It is still
unclear, for that matter, whether a sitting president can even be
But Mueller will be tasked with bringing any evidence he finds of
criminal wrongdoing to Capitol Hill, at which point the question
of Trump’s fitness for office will become entirely political.
As such, the damage Trump has done to his relationships with more
than half of the Republicans who sit on the Senate Judiciary
Committee — which would ultimately be tasked with voting to
remove Trump from office if the House moved to impeach him — may
prove more dangerous for him in the long run.
Since taking office seven months ago, Trump has criticized or
alienated committee members including Graham, Flake, Ted Cruz,
Ben Sasse, Orrin Hatch, John Cornyn, and Thom Tillis. He has
even annoyed the
committee’s chairman, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, for
ignoring information requests from various oversight committees.
Grassley told Reuters on
Thursday that, if it came to it, he would be an “impartial” juror
on any impeachment proceedings. But he said that Trump’s
preoccupation with responding to his Republican critics has not
“He should be 100% sticking to ideas and forget about
personalities,” Grassley said.
Brian Gardner, a political analyst at KBW, wrote in a note to
clients on Thursday that, “even for
Republicans, working with the White House could be seen as
“The President’s approval ratings are already poor and may dip
further,” the note continued. “Frankly, there will be little to
be gained by working with the White House.”
And if Mueller’s findings prove damning, many Republicans will
have virtually nothing to gain by defending him — and no loyalty
that would spur them to.
“Skills like building alliances, loyalty, trustworthiness, clear
communications, compromise, vision, ability to persuade, working
across the aisle, understanding what others need from a deal, and
above all leadership… some of these skills can be learned,”
Tyler said. “But Trump seems to have a cognitive defect that does
not allow him to learn from his mistakes.”