GOP senator wants party to 'be more honest' about Trump concerns

Murkowski hinted at a truth that generally doesn't rise above a whisper in GOP politics: much of the party realizes there's something wrong with Trump.
Image: U.S. senators arrive for Senate Health hearing on reopening the economy amid coronavirus outbreak in Washington
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, arrives for a hearing on Capitol Hill on May 12, 2020.Carlos Barria / Reuters

After former Defense Secretary James Mattis wrote a brutal rebuke of Donald Trump's presidency yesterday, it stood reason that Senate Republicans would be pressed for a response. It was against this backdrop that Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) praised the retired general's blistering assessment as "true and honest and necessary and overdue."

Murkowski said: "When I saw Gen. Mattis' comments yesterday I felt like perhaps we are getting to a point where we can be more honest with the concerns that we might hold internally and have the courage of our own convictions to speak up. And so I'm working as one individual to form the right words, knowing that these words really matter so I appreciate General Mattis' comments."

Asked if she'd support the president's re-election, the Alaska Republican added, "I am struggling with it. I have struggled with it for a long time."

As regular readers know, Murkowski has been one of Congress' most interesting Republican members in recent years. The three-term senator, who won as a write-in candidate in 2010 after losing in a primary, has repeatedly been more willing than most GOP lawmakers to go her own way on key issues.

When her party tried to replace the Affordable Care Act with a far-right alternative, she balked. When her party rallied behind Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination, Murkowski was the only GOP senator to vote "no." When Senate Republicans pushed a resolution last year to denounce the House's impeachment inquiry, the Alaskan didn't sign it. When Mitch McConnell vowed to remain in "total coordination" with Team Trump during the president's impeachment trial, she made her displeasure known.

And while Murkowski didn't vote to convict Trump in the Senate's impeachment trial, she was one of a handful of GOP senators to concede that the president's extortion scheme toward Ukraine was wrong.

Four months later, the Alaskan seemed only too pleased to extend her support to Mattis' historic criticism of the sitting American president.

But the part of Murkowski's comments that stood out for me as most notable was her hope that Republicans "can be more honest with the concerns that we might hold internally." She didn't say this explicitly, but that line hinted at a truth that generally doesn't rise above a whisper in GOP politics: many of the party's members realize something is deeply wrong with Donald Trump -- but to borrow Murkowski's phrasing, they're afraid to be "more honest" about the concerns they "hold internally."

I'm skeptical that even recent events will cause a lasting shift in Republican politics -- the fear of the president, his media allies, and his followers is powerful -- but it was nevertheless a pleasant change of pace to hear a sitting GOP senator acknowledge "the concerns" about Trump out loud.