President Trump routinely accosts the press corps, foreign leaders, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Lindsey Graham R-S.C.
He has yet to verbally pistol-whip most congressional Republicans.
Sure, he lit up Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., during the campaign. Remember handles like “Lyin’ Ted” and “Little Marco?” Who can possibly forget the absolutely baleful rhetoric Trump unleashed on House Speaker Paul Ryan?
For now, Schumer remains a favorite foil of Trump. The president even got hooks into Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., over a meeting on opioid addiction which never happened.
But one wonders how long Trump can hold his tongue if Congress doesn’t start to produce some of the legislative results he wants – let alone needs.
It’s now late February. Other than some executive orders (albeit controversial ones) and un-doing a few Obama-era provisions, Congress hasn’t sent the the president much meat on which to chew. One can certainly point at Senate Democrats for slow-walking Cabinet nominees and siphoning valuable hours of Senate floor time. But frankly, it’s not like the Republican-led Congress had big ticket items ready for the president to sign.
The marquee topics are tax reform and repealing and replacing ObamaCare. These will take time – despite some of the high-minded talk from the campaign trail that lawmakers could address things overnight. We’re hearing the Trump administration could have plans on both ready sometime in March.
So far, there’s been minimal intra-tribal warfare on the polar ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. But Trump must tread carefully. Sure, he enjoys bedrock supporters like Reps. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., and Lou Barletta, R-Pa. But many congressional Republicans only boarded the Trump train as a matter of convenience. Many jumped on late. Others went along tepidly because of voters in their districts. Some aren’t with the Trump program even now. But they quietly sit on their hands because they know Republicans have a shot at tax reform and retrenching ObamaCare. This particular cohort of congressional Republicans winces at ill-conceived executive orders, phone calls to Australia and various pre-dawn tweets.
Could this dam break?
To some Republicans, repeal and replacement of ObamaCare is taking too long. Tax reform is struggling. Challenges to keep the government open and raise the debt ceiling (the total amount of red ink that the federal government can carry at any one time) lurk around the bend. The national debt now kisses $21 trillion. It’s not clear where Republican leaders will unearth the votes to hike the debt ceiling if there’s no concrete plan in place to reduce spending in a significant fashion.
Most congressional Republicans didn’t invest deeply in Trump. If there aren’t results, they can’t blame President Obama or Hillary Clinton or House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Schumer? Perhaps a little. Midterm elections loom next fall. These Republican lawmakers will only stay on the bus so long before they start to bail. After all, they need a foil, too. What about that mandate for Trump to govern? Clinton clocked the president in the popular vote by nearly three million clicks.
Could they levy their grievances against Trump?
They can blame the rocky, early days of his administration. Chaotic press conferences. Hawking Ivanka Trump’s jewelry on Fox. And Sweden. #StandwithSweden.
It’s conceivable some congressional GOPers could dump Trump to build distance between themselves and the president. But, speaking of Sweden, others may very well hunker down in their own version of the Stockholm Syndrome, accepting their captor.
You see, the electoral consequences of the midterm election might not be that dire for Republicans. Start with the Senate. Only eight Republicans face re-election next year compared to a staggering 25 Democrats. Many of those Democratic seats are hard to hold as they represent red states or turf Mr. Trump carried: Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.; Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.; Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.; Bob Casey, D-Pa.; Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.; and Angus King, I-Maine. Meantime, only two GOP senators are remotely vulnerable: Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Dean Heller, R-Nev. Some Democrats are cautiously optimistic about the seat now occupied by Cruz.
At this writing, Democrats might consider it a victory to keep GOP gains to two or three seats.
In the House, Republicans represent 23 seats Clinton carried last fall. The current House breakdown is 238 Republicans and 193 Democrats with four vacancies. As things stand now, Democrats would have to run the table and capture 23 seats for an outright majority.
That is a tall order.
So, if you’re the Republican brain trust and things start to spill off the rails with Trump, who cares? Can Democrats truly tie GOPers to Trump in a way that makes any electoral difference? Most Democratic voters are concentrated in the liberal archipelagoes which hug the coasts. There aren’t even many swing voters available for Democrats to flip in House districts they need to win. Many congressional Republicans outperformed the president in their districts.
Thus, we may have a version of the Congressional Stockholm Syndrome. Members willing to just go along, believing it holds little consequence for them at the ballot box.
Will the midterm election focus on results and the possible toxicity of Trump? It might. But due to built-in GOP advantages, it might not matter what happens on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Capitol Attitude is a weekly column written by members of the Fox News Capitol Hill team. Their articles take you inside the halls of Congress, and cover the spectrum of policy issues being introduced, debated and voted on there.