As Donald Trump's latest scandal intensified, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) went further than most Republicans in taking the controversy seriously. The Utahan said in tweet over the weekend that if the president "asked or pressured Ukraine's president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme."
We now know, of course, that the scenario Romney described is exactly what happened. Nevertheless, for his troubles, the senator faced an online attack from Trump. The signal to other GOP lawmakers wasn't subtle: those who take a stand on principle should expect to face White House attacks, too.
As of yesterday, Romney wasn't the only congressional Republican with concerns. The Washington Post reported overnight on new fissures in the GOP's wall.
Several Senate Republicans were privately stunned Wednesday and questioned the White House's judgment after it released a rough transcript of President Trump's call with the Ukraine president that showed Trump offering the help of the U.S. attorney general to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.One Senate Republican, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly, said the transcript's release was a "huge mistake" that the GOP now has to confront and defend -- while the party argues at the same time that House Democrats are overreaching with their impeachment inquiry of Trump.
It's important not to overstate the broader dynamic: Trump still has the broad support of his party. Some are sincere, some are acting on partisan reflex, and some are afraid of pushback from the president's far-right followers, but whatever the motivation, it'd be a mistake to assume Trump has reason to fear significant intra-party defections.
At least for now, that is.
That said, it would also be wrong to believe Republicans are united around the White House's talking points. After having seen the rough transcript of Trump's July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Romney reiterated his "troubling in the extreme" concerns. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who expressed some modest concerns over the weekend, added yesterday that he considered Trump's comments to Zelensky "inappropriate," though the Pennsylvania senator added that he doesn't see the matter as an impeachable offense.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who's taken steps in a decidedly Trump-like direction of late, conceded yesterday, "Republicans ought not to be rushing to circle the wagons and say there's no 'there' there when there's obviously a lot that's very troubling there."
True to form, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was willing to say the Trump call summary "raises a number of important questions."
Mike Murphy, a longtime Republican consultant with a client list that includes John McCain and Jeb Bush, told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell yesterday, "'One Republican senator told me if it was a secret vote, 30 Republican senators would vote to impeach Trump."
I'd still set expectations low, but it's a dynamic worth watching.