Justin Amash Stands Alone As GOP Slavishly Backs Trump
Justin Amash spoke out against the President and Attorney General. Unsurprisingly this is not being received well by his fellow Republicans.
On Saturday, Michigan Congressman Justin Amash took to Twitter to take on the President and his Administration. Over the course of more than a half-dozen tweets, Amash stated that Attorney General William Barr had misrepresented the contents of the Mueller report to Congress and the American public and, most dramatically, voiced support for the impeachment of the President. In the wake of his statements, there was some speculation about whether any of his fellow Republicans might join him. Not surprisingly, the answer so far has turned out to be an emphatic no.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, for example, chose to speak out against Amash on Twitter while other Republicans have mostly remained quiet. Asked about Amash’s comments on CNN’s State Of The Union on Sunday, Utah Senator Mitt Romney called Amash’s statement “courageous” but nonetheless stated that he didn’t believe that the report itself justified impeachment, suggesting that additional evidence would be necessary to convince him of that. President Trump, of course, took to Twitter to attack Amash as a “loser,” and one suspects that this will become the standard line among Trump supporters in the GOP.
Taking note of all of this Slate’s Jim Newell cautions anyone from assuming that Amash’s statements will be the start of a Republican rebellion:
The lawmaker, now in his fifth term, is an outlier within his caucus. The dam is not breaking.
Amash, one of the most conservative members of the House and a founding member of the Freedom Caucus, came to Congress in the 2010 Tea Party wave, promising to roll back the size and scope of government and constrain the executive branch. He’s grown isolated from fellow conservatives during the Trump administration, however, as the right flank of the party metamorphosed from small-government ideologues into President Trump’s choir, while he still has the audacity to consider reining in the White House a priority even with a Republican in it.
Too conservative for the House rank-and-file, and too Trump-skeptical for the Freedom Caucus, Amash now finds himself, as CNN’s Haley Byrd wrote in a recent profile, “the loneliest Republican in Congress.” That was especially the case after his friend and nearest analog within the caucus, former North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones, died earlier this year.
So the nod to impeachment wasn’t out of the blue. Amash has consistently called out, and voted against, the president. He voted against Trump’s emergency declaration for a border wall and two hardline immigration bills—Kate’s Law and the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act—citing constitutional concerns. When Trump talks shit on Twitter, most Republicans hide under their desks. But Amash is known to return fire. He even used the February hearing with former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to ask actual questions about the president rather than run interference on his behalf.
And how has this particular first from Amash been received within his party? The president tweeted that he was “never a fan of” Amash, which is probably true, and described him as a “total lightweight” and a “loser.” This was to be expected. But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was equally unsparing, leveling personal insults at one of his own members.
“This is exactly what he wants, he wants to have attention,” McCarthy said Sunday. “You’ve got to understand Justin Amash. He’s been in Congress quite some time. I think he’s asked one question in all the committees that he’s been in. He votes more with Nancy Pelosi than he ever votes with me. It’s a question whether he’s even in our Republican conference as a whole.”
Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, tweeted that “it’s sad to see Congressman Amash parroting the Democrats’ talking points on Russia,” adding that“voters in Amash’s district strongly support this President, and would rather their Congressman work to support the President’s policies that have brought jobs, increased wages and made life better for Americans.” A primary challenge to Amash is in the works, though none have been successful in the past. (That’s one reason Amash can tweet these things: He has a close, transparent relationship with his voters, often writing lengthy Facebook explanations for his consequential votes. The voters in Michigan’s 3rd district know who Justin Amash is, and they’ve reelected him four times. He can get away with heresies.)
Jennifer Rubin, meanwhile, explains exactly why Amash stands alone:
[W]e return to the question that vexes NeverTrumpers and Democrats: Why are Republicans such quivering sycophants, willing to lie and debase themselves in support of an unpopular president who is repudiating many of the principles they have spent their lives advancing?
I’d suggest there are three distinct groups of Republican grovelers. Some may fall into multiple categories.
First are the cynics who know Trump is unfit, if not dangerous; however, they’ll get what they can (e.g., judges, tax cuts) and bolster their resumes (e.g., working for the administration, getting fawning Fox News coverage). When Trump bottoms out, they’ll move on, probably insisting they were secretly against Trump all along. They consider Republicans who’ve resisted Trump such as the Weekly Standard’s editors and writers, who refused to imbibe the Trump Kool-Aid and in the process lost their publication, to be fools, saps and fusspots upset about a few tweets, dumb lies and crass language. All politicians are rotten, right, so why not grab what you can get?
In the second category are Republicans convinced that they’ll never find work if they speak out against Trump. They’ll lose their offices and/or offend Republican officialdom, including think tanks, right-wing media, donors, party activists and elected officials. (They are part of a right-wing ecosystem; some might call it a racket.) No plum lobbying gigs or Fox contributorships for them. They fear ostracism would ruin them financially and personally, leaving them in a political wilderness from which they fear they’d never return. They, like the cynics, occasionally feel a pang of conscience, especially when NeverTrumpers remind them that there is an alternative to self-debasement. They then will swiftly revert to “But Gorsuch and Kavanaugh” or “But taxes” to justify their moral and intellectual collapse. They’ll whisper behind closed doors that Trump is a menace, but coo and kvell over him when the cameras are on.
And finally, there are the cranks, the zealots, the racists and the haters — a group, it turns out, much larger than many ex-Republicans could ever fathom. This includes not just the overt white nationalists and the tea party crowd but also those who have been simmering with personal resentment against “liberal elites.” Vice President Pence insists he and his fellow evangelical Christians are hapless victims; the children and grandchildren of Dixiecrats fume that everything went downhill in the 1960s. Some of these people will insist they are not racists nor misogynists — but yet they sure seem to have an extraordinarily high tolerance for those who are.
If you eliminate the retirees who couldn’t take it any more (e.g., former U.S. senator from Arizona Jeff Flake), the cynics, the scaredy-cats and the resentful self-made victims, you’re down to a precious few congressional Republicans who will refuse to rationalize (and even praise) whatever Trump does.
I’d love to think Amash’s statements free and embolden many more Republicans in the House and Senate to step forward.
Is that likely? No.
This is why voters must continue to reject Trump and Trumpism, driving the current crew of Republicans out of office. Only then, like saplings poking up from the ashes of a forest fire, can new, sustainable and decent political life on the right emerge. Unless and until Amash has many, many allies, the voters must do the heavy lifting of ridding ourselves of Trump and Trumpism.
Rubin’s grouping of what passes for conservatism and the Republican Party is not dissimilar from my own, which groups the GOP and the conservative movement more generally into four groups. First, there are the Trump fanatics and true believers. These are the people who show up at Trump rallies with their MAGA hats and signs. Many of them have been with Trump from the beginning and are unlikely to abandon him no matter what happens. Next, come the sycophants who suck up to Trumpism because it will advance their political careers. Closely related to the sycophants are the ones who have basically sold out to Trumpism either to preserve their position in the party or to advance their own political agenda. The final group is the worst of all of them. These people know that Trump and Trumpism are cancers on the GOP, on conservatism, and on the country but they are too concerned with risking their own political future to speak out. If they do speak out, it’s either off the record or in anonymous quotes to reporters. Some of these are people who, if they did speak out, could arguably make a difference and show that not everyone in the party is united behind Trump’s xenophobia and pandering to nativism and white supremacist populism, but they choose not to. Taken together, these four groups make up what passes for conservatism.
There’s a reason why the small handful of politicians who have been critical of Trump in one respect or another, such as former Senators Jeff Flake or Bob Corker, are also politicians who either aren’t standing for reelection this year or who have decided to retire. Another frequent Trump critic, the late Senator John McCain, was obviously at that point in his life that he clearly didn’t care about the political consequences of picking a fight with the likes of Trump. Beyond that, though, pretty much every Republican on Capitol Hill, and no small amount of the conservative pundit class that appears on cable news on a daily basis is silent in the face of Trump’s outrageous conduct. So basically, the modern Republican Party is made up of Trump supporters who are beyond reason, sycophants who are cozying up to Trump because they think it will advance their careers, sellouts who had sold themselves to a man with no principles, and cowards who know what they’re seeing is wrong but are too afraid to speak out against it. The result is that the GOP is moving further and further into the Trumpidian populist category in a way that will have a lasting impact on the GOP long after Trump is gone. It also explains why Amash stands out as such an exception to the general Republican rule. He’s one of the few people on Capitol Hill with an “R” after their name who has the integrity to speak out against the President. One can hope that, just maybe, he will encourage other Republicans to join him but for the reasons Rubin notes, that’s not very likely. As James Joyner and myself have both noted, the Republican Party is Trump’s Party now and that’s why Amash stands out as such an oddity.