Late last week, after Donald Trump publicly urged China to go after Joe Biden, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) was willing to do what most Republicans were not: he admonished his party’s president. “By all appearances, the President’s brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling,” the senator wrote on Twitter.
The predictable Trump tantrum soon followed.
Trump claimed in one tweet Saturday that he had heard that there are people in Utah who regretted voting for Romney, who won an open Utah seat for U.S. Senate in 2018 with nearly 63 percent of the vote. Prior to the general election, he won the Republican primary by nearly 40 points. […]
Trump on Saturday appeared to call for Romney’s impeachment as senator, using a hashtag in all capital letters.
“He is a fool who is playing right into the hands of the Do Nothing Democrats,” Trump tweeted…. Trump began his attacks on Romney earlier on Saturday with tweets in which he called Romney “a pompous ‘ass’ who has been fighting me from the beginning” and said Romney could have won the 2012 election if he “worked this hard on Obama.”
Incidentally, a higher percentage of the electorate voted for Romney in 2012 than voted for Trump in 2016. It’s also worth noting that there is no mechanism in American law that allows for the impeachment of a sitting U.S. senator – a detail Trump might know if he had a stronger familiarity with the basics of his own country’s system of government.
Nevertheless, the Washington Post noted that the president’s online fury sent “a flashing signal to other Republicans that there would be consequences to speaking out against the president.”
That’s almost certainly true, but it’s worth pausing to consider the severity of the “flashing signal.” Beware, congressional Republicans, you too may be subjected to some rude tweets for a couple of days if you take a principled stand?
I don’t imagine it’s pleasant to be on the receiving end of a presidential fit, but it’s not as if Trump’s rant did any meaningful harm to Romney. So where’s the disincentive for others in the GOP?
On Saturday morning, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was willing to tell reporters, “I thought the president made a big mistake by asking China to get involved in investigating a political opponent. It’s completely inappropriate.” A day earlier, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) was careful not to criticize Trump by name, but he did say in a statement, “Hold up: Americans don’t look to Chinese commies for the truth.”
At least for now, the president hasn’t gone after either of them for daring to say something the White House may not like. Even if Trump took great offense, I have a hunch Collins and Sasse could survive a few intemperate tweets.
The Washington Post had a separate report over the weekend on the widespread panic in Republican circles, filled with GOP officials who fear drastic consequences if they step out of line. One former senior administration official said Republicans are largely united behind Trump because “nobody wants to be the zebra that strays from the pack and gets gobbled up by the lion.”
Perhaps, but what if the lion has no bite and his roar isn’t nearly as intimidating as he likes to believe?
The article added:
Across the country, most GOP lawmakers have responded to questions about Trump’s conduct with varying degrees of silence, shrugged shoulders or pained defenses. For now, their collective strategy is simply to survive and not make any sudden moves.
This account of the anxiety gripping the Republican Party is based on interviews with 21 lawmakers, aides and advisers, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly.
By any fair measure, it’s pitiful to see so many Republicans this terrified of a flailing and unpopular president as he approaches impeachment. But the dynamic is made more acute after reading Trump’s politically impotent tweets directed at Mitt Romney.
If the worst arrows in the presidential quiver feature juvenile taunts and threat of a procedural tactic that does not exist, GOP officials need not cower in the corner indefinitely.