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Why it matters that a GOP senator is criticizing Trump's COVID failures

Even in Texas, an incumbent senator apparently believes there's a political benefit to acknowledging and criticizing the president's coronavirus failures.
Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn
John Cornyn (R-Texas)Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call

Six months ago, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) was one of many Republicans downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus crisis. As the Houston Chronicle reported yesterday, the GOP senator -- who happens to be facing a tough re-election fight this year -- has recently adopted a very different posture.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said Monday that President Donald Trump "let his guard down" on the coronavirus and that the president's rhetoric has created "confusion" as the country has struggled to get the pandemic under control. "I think he let his guard down, and I think in his desire to try to demonstrate that we are somehow coming out of this and that the danger is not still with us -- I think he got out over his skis and frankly, I think it's a lesson to all of us that we need to exercise self discipline," Cornyn told the Houston Chronicle editorial board.

The Texas senator went on to note the president's comments to Bob Woodward about deliberately downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic.

"[Trump] tries to balance that with saying, 'Well you know, we got this.' And clearly we don't have this," Cornyn told the Chronicle. "I think the biggest mistake people make in public life is not telling the truth, particularly in something with as much public interest as here because you know the real story is going to come out."

For those unfamiliar with the Texas Republican, no reasonable observer would ever mistake him for a sensible centrist. On the contrary, Cornyn has earned a reputation as a bitter partisan who votes with the Trump White House more than 95% of the time.

He is not, in other words, the kind of GOP lawmaker expected to criticize the president -- out loud, on the record, during an election season.

And yet, here we are. As Trump pretends his coronavirus infection is some kind of triumph, worthy of boasts and pride, there's John Cornyn, rebuking the president for "letting his guard down," getting out "over his skis," and failing to "exercise self-discipline."

It's a reflection of the fact that Trump's political standing is weakening -- even in Texas, where an incumbent senator apparently believes there's a political benefit to acknowledging and criticizing the president's coronavirus failures.