U.S. Senator John McCain and U.S. Senator Jeff Flake speak to reporters after attending a "Conversation On Immigration" during a town hall event in Mesa,...
Joshua Lott/Reuters

GOP senators offer inconsistent support for democratic principles

After Donald Trump balked in this week’s debate at accepting the outcome of the presidential election, it was inevitable that many congressional Republicans would be asked for their reactions, and to their credit, many were quick to criticize their party’s nominee. But there’s another part of their agenda that casts these principles in a less flattering light.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), for example, said it’s “imperative” for Trump to say he’ll accept the results of the election. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) issued a similar statement, explaining that if Trump loses, “it will not be because the system is ‘rigged’ but because he failed as a candidate.” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said Trump’s comments during the debate were “beyond the pale.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), meanwhile, went further than most to defend democratic principles against the criticisms from his party’s nominee. This is an excerpt from a longer written statement:
“I didn’t like the outcome of the 2008 election. But I had a duty to concede, and I did so without reluctance. A concession isn’t just an exercise in graciousness. It is an act of respect for the will of the American people, a respect that is every American leader’s first responsibility.

“Whatever our differences we owe each other that respect, which we express by defending the democratic values and practices that protect us all.

“I don’t know who’s going to win the presidential election. I do know that in every previous election, the loser congratulates the winner and calls them, ‘my president.’ That’s not just the Republican way or the Democratic way. It’s the American way. This election must not be any different.”
Though McCain didn’t call out Trump by name, the senator’s statement was a welcome rebuke of his party’s presidential candidate and his assault on democratic norms.

But as encouraging as McCain’s statement was, the Arizona Republican may not fully appreciate the degree to which his message is burdened by inconsistencies.

Yesterday, McCain did the right thing, taking a firm stand in support of democratic principles and American institutions, but it was just a few days ago that McCain also did the exact opposite, thumbing his nose at democratic principles and American institutions by “promising” to help block any Supreme Court nominee Hillary Clinton sends to the Senate if she wins the election.

In effect, McCain, before eventually walking back his comments, said he and his party should exercise raw partisanship, impose an indefinite Supreme Court blockade, and ignore constitutional imperatives, simply because Clinton is a member of the other party.

Jeff Flake was even less subtle, criticizing Trump yesterday while simultaneously arguing that a likely Clinton victory should encourage Senate Republicans to quickly confirm Merrick Garland’s nomination now, before Clinton takes office, principles be damned.

Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern had an interesting piece yesterday arguing that what Senate Republicans are doing with regard to the Supreme Court is actually worse for democracy than Trump’s willingness to cast doubts over the elections process.

Sure, Republican senators who are speaking up to rebuke Trump deserve some credit, but in order to be impressed with their principled stands for American norms and traditions, they’re going to have to be a little more consistent.