In the months leading up to the presidential election two years ago, few Republicans were as vigorous in their criticisms of Donald Trump as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), one of the future president's former primary foes. The Florida Republican was on record calling Trump a "con man," a "lunatic," and a dangerous "liar" who cannot be trusted with the nation's nuclear arsenal.
The senator, of course, then endorsed Trump's candidacy anyway.
After the president's inauguration, Rubio started voting in lock step with the White House's agenda, and his criticisms of Trump evaporated. This morning, in a surprisingly candid Twitter message, the senator explained why Republicans are so inclined to bite their tongues when it comes to this president, even when they think he's wrong.
"Many Republicans won't criticize Trump even when they don't agree with him b/c it means siding with a media that nevers [sic] cuts him a break, turns even little things he does into an act of evil, are also unfair to them & in the end will still attack you anyway"
Rubio's tweet referred people to an Axios item on a poll that found 92% Republicans and Republican-leaning independents believe major American news organizations "knowingly report false or misleading stories at least sometimes."
MSNBC's Chris Hayes, commenting on Rubio's tweet, responded, "This is as perfect an explanation of the entire GOP and the mechanics of its coalition as you'll find."
I enthusiastically agree. The senator described a political landscape in which Republicans are part of one team, and independent news organizations are part of another. Rubio, naturally, sees the president as a teammate.
And as a consequence, Rubio believes there's an expectation that members of the team overlook Trump's worst qualities -- the corruption, the racism, the incompetence, the dishonesty, the indifference to American traditions and laws -- because to acknowledge them would be to "side" with the rival team.
What matters in this dynamic isn't principle or propriety, but rather, the team's interests -- and GOP policymakers who find themselves endorsing the findings of professional American journalists run the risk of helping the wrong team.
This isn't how public service is supposed to work in our system, but as Rubio can attest, it's apparently the point at which we've arrived.