My latest piece in POLITICO Magazine uses a bumpy week of revelations to surmise when (if ever) Congressional Republicans might tire of this White House, and what would compel them to cut bait. For now voter sentiment is enough to keep them in line, but ultimately Trump’s hold on elected GOPers is only as strong as the promise of the Republican legislative agenda:
The collective action problem facing elected Republicans today is an echo of the dynamic that played out on the campaign trail. Whatever their true feelings, your average member is boxed in unless and until Trump’s numbers begin to crater with their voters; right now, his approval rating among Republicans is in the 80s. While most GOP congressional candidates kept Trump at arms’ length last year, a move validated by their performance, those who openly crossed him did so strategically and in relatively muted tones. The one time you did see a real jailbreak, with the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape, it yielded around 50 defections; but those decisions—and the ensuing anticlimax—leave scar tissue to this day. During a crucial week for the health care bill, leaked audio surfaced of Speaker Paul Ryan backing away from Trump mere weeks before the election, an episode that remains a sore spot for the president.
And yet the stakes on the trail were different. Back then you only had to grit your teeth through the last few months of the election, hold on tight and hope for the best. Flash forward and Republicans actually hold all the levers of power. If it was hard to cross the party’s underdog nominee, the thought of breaking with the president of the United States with three and a half years left on the clock is exponentially more daunting. Moreover, the current trifecta may be a once-a-generation legislative opportunity, suggesting a heightened tolerance for Trump’s foibles. When you find yourself in the red zone on a decade’s worth of political goals, it takes a lot of lost yardage to force you to punt.
There still may be more fallout from the Russia meeting, to be sure. For now it feels like a political bomb that didn’t quite go off, even if the audible ticks sent the smarter pols scrambling. But it’s nonetheless an instructive moment when it comes to discerning the pain threshold for the elected GOP. The criticisms may grow louder with each unforced error by the White House, but as long as the legislative dream is still alive it’s hard to imagine any sort of full-scale break. If that dream dies, however, it’s every man for himself.
Read the full piece here.
I already weighed in on the strategic folly of Schumer’s Gorsuch gambit last week at POLITICO Magazine, but I decided it was worth a meditation on the sheer disingenuousness of it all over at National Review.
Neither party has a monopoly on bad faith, but the advantage of McConnell’s gambit was its simplicity. The election-year-vacancy rule, however contrived, lent itself to relentless message discipline. Republicans took great care not to indulge a debate on the process of the nomination, much less the merits of the nominee. It’s here where Schumer’s approach fails: Democrats are lodging an ideological complaint, wrapped in an appeal to principle, inside a procedural red herring.
Schumer’s muddled pretext has flushed his members down an agonizing logical cul de sac. Take Claire McCaskill, emerging from a self-proclaimed “vortex” to announce that she would join a filibuster, despite being up for reelection in 2018 in a state that went for Donald Trump by 19 points less than six months ago. Consider the tortured lede of her piece at Medium.com:
This is a really difficult decision for me. I am not comfortable with either choice. While I have come to the conclusion that I can’t support Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court — and will vote no on the procedural vote and his confirmation — I remain very worried about our polarized politics and what the future will bring, since I’m certain we will have a Senate rule change that will usher in more extreme judges in the future.
While you wouldn’t know it from Schumer’s dodgy rhetoric, or from McCaskill’s em-dash aside, these outcomes are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, it is precisely Senator McCaskill’s opposition on the procedural vote that will probably precipitate the rule change she professes to fear.
Full piece here.
My latest piece in POLITICO Magazine on the Gorsuch, the filibuster, and mutually assured obstruction.
But saying Republicans have the political will to put Gorsuch on the court is different than saying there are 50 GOP senators who are otherwise prepared to end the filibuster. Their appetite is entirely a function of circumstance. Were Democrats to lay off Gorsuch, keeping their powder dry for the future and maintaining the moral high ground, it would be rather easy to imagine the Susan Collinses, John McCains and Lindsey Grahams of the world getting cold feet with a lesser Trump pick, particularly one who shifts the balance of the court rather than maintaining it. Which is to say that Gorsuch’s nomination is something of a perfect storm for GOP procedural fortitude. Only seeing such a model jurist held hostage to cynical political whims would be enough to compel the righteous indignation necessary to go nuclear. (I’ll pause here so my friends on the left can let out a primal scream for poor Merrick Garland.)
The cloture rule now faces an existential paradox. Call it Schrödinger’s Filibuster. Assuming Schumer can hold the line within his caucus—and he has seven votes to give—the 60 vote threshold for Supreme Court nominations is dead. Do the right thing and it lives to see another day.
Full piece here.