Trump’s Mexico Tariffs And Republican ‘Profiles In Courage’
The GOP Senators standing up against the President's tariffs on Mexico are being called courageous. I'm wondering what took them so long to stand up.
As I noted yesterday, Senate Republicans are signaling the White House that they could seek to take steps to rebuke the President over his decision to impose tariffs on Mexico due to the flow of migrants to our border with Mexico. This causes Amber Phillips to note that the Senators who are doing so are taking a big political risk:
This would directly undermine Trump on his top 2020 issue: immigration. Passing such a resolution would stop Trump from being able to fund the border wall. Even if Republicans don’t agree with how he’s trying to fund the wall, supporting the wall itself remains a fundamental pillar of being a Republican in the era of Trump.
It could be tough for them to go home and explain to Trump supporters why they stopped one of the president’s top policy objectives over a more esoteric trade policy issue.
Trump is also tying these Mexican tariffs to the migrant crisis at the border. As migrants illegally enter the United States at record levels,
Trump has cast them as dangerous and ill-willed, and he’s using the threat of tariffs to force Mexico to somehow stem them.
So in opposing Trump, Republican senators risk being seen as anti-border-wall and against acting tough on migrants. It’s a politically risky move, but one that a chunk of Republican senators seem willing to make.
The first thought that comes to mind about all of this is the fact that we have seen very few signs of political courage on the part of Republicans on Capitol Hill since the start of the Trump Administration. While there have been some isolated examples of Congressman and Senators speaking out against the President, most of the real criticism of the President has come from legislators who have already announced their retirement or those, such as the late John McCain, who essentially had nothing to lose in openly opposing the President. It is the very fact that there have been so few Republicans willing to stand up against this President that makes those few examples the most noteworthy. By and large, the vast majority of the candidates have been carbon copies of the sycophants, sellouts, and cowards that make up the rest of the Republican Party. In other words, the GOP in the age of Trump has not exactly been a profile in courage.
What is ironic, and telling, about Phillips comments, which I largely agree with, is the fact that it is considered at all controversial that these Senators could face blowback for taking what, until now, had been a long-standing principle among Republicans and conservatives. While what it means to be a Republican and a conservative has changed over time, for at least the period since the end of World War II that definition has included support for free trade and open markets to international trade. This belief has been based largely on the overwhelming economic consensus, among economists on both sides, that tariffs are a bad idea that end up harming the domestic economy and American businesses. This idea held true for decades through a number of Republican Administrations.
All of that changed on a dime once Donald Trump became President. While his political affiliation has changed over the years from seemingly Democratic to Independent to Republican, Trump has always been an opponent and sharp critic of free and open trade. In the 1980s, he was among the harshest critics of what some at the time thought was a trade policy that was far too lenient toward Japan, which Trump asserted was running circles around the U.S. due to our trade policies. Thirty years later, he continues to say the same thing, except now the enemies he looks at aren’t in Japan, but in China and, bizarrely, Canada, Mexico, and Europe, nations that we used to count as among our most important allies.
Now that he’s President, Trump has turned those largely discredited and economically backward viewed into policy, and he’s brought the Republican Party along with him. The result is a party that once stood for free trade and opposition to economically destructive tariffs and trade wars now mimicking Trump’s economic nationalism notwithstanding the fact that it will only lead to economic ruin.
This is only one example, of course, of the extent to which the Republican Party has become a cult of personality with Donald Trump at its center. For Republican base voters, any criticism of the President, even by solidly conservative politicians or pundits is seen as a betrayal that cannot be forgiven. This is why Phillips is correct to say that these Senators are taking a political risk in opposing what is, at its root, an absolutely insane policy being advocated by the President, and it’s the main reason why most Republican officeholders don’t dare to speak up against the President regardless of what they may think and say about him in private. For that reason, I suppose, these Senators deserve some credit for finally speaking up against the President. One does wonder, though, what took them so long.