Seven Republican senators voted to convict Donald Trump in last week's impeachment trial, and not surprisingly, they're all facing quite a bit of pushback from Republicans who expected the senators to toe the GOP line on the former president.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who's retiring next year and doesn't seem to care too much about partisan backlashes, has already been censured by multiple GOP county committees following Saturday afternoon's vote. The state Republican Party will also soon consider an effort to formally rebuke the incumbent senator.
After voting his conscience, Toomey said over the weekend, "I did what I thought was right." For his intra-party critics, that's precisely the problem.
"We did not send him there to vote his conscience," Dave Ball, chairman of the Washington County GOP, told Pittsburgh station KDKA-TV. "We did not send him there to do 'the right thing' or whatever he said he was doing. We sent him there to represent us."
Ball's Washington County GOP, of course, was one of the local Republican entities to censure Toomey for his vote in the impeachment trial.
It's a fascinating perspective. For generations, there have been interesting political debates over how elected lawmakers should best serve their constituents. Is it the job of a senator to simply vote the way his or her constituents would vote? What about when there's broad disagreement?
In a lower-case-r republican form of government, don't voters effectively hire officials to serve in legislative bodies, listen and learn, and then exercise their best judgment?
For the Republican chair of one county in southeastern Pennsylvania, there are clear answers to questions like these. Pat Toomey's conscience is apparently irrelevant. So too is his sense of right and wrong. "We," Dave Ball said, sent the senator to Capitol Hill "to represent us."
The local official apparently didn't delve into too much detail about who counts as "we" and "us," but in context, his candor was unsubtle: it's the job of a Republican senator, the argument goes, to act in accordance with Republicans' wishes.
It's an extension of Donald Trump's belief, emphasized repeatedly throughout his White House tenure, that he was the president of those who agreed with him, not the United States as a whole. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) had a related observation along these lines last week, arguing that he sees himself as "accountable" to Republican voters.
MSNBC's Chris Hayes added soon after, "[Hawley's] speaking here not about being a U.S. Senator who is accountable to the voters -- all of them -- of his state of Missouri. No, he's saying the Party is what matters here, and the Party is run by its voters and so that is who he is accountable to.... Hawley is making it explicit here that he sees himself fundamentally as a party functionary, not a member of the representative government."
Quite right. And for some Republican officials, the fact that Toomey doesn't see himself fundamentally as a party functionary, and instead believes it's his job to serve as part of a representative government is precisely the problem.
By this reasoning, Americans don't elect policymakers, so much as they elect cogs in a partisan machine. It's a perspective, fueling a great many censure resolutions, which suggests niceties such as "consciences" must be supplanted with the expectations of Republican leaders -- or in the case of 2021, one particular Republican leader.
It's not a healthy perspective, but in contemporary GOP politics, that doesn't seem to matter.