Jeff Flake’s career as a United States senator never attracted the kind of media attention garnered by those of congressional counterparts such as House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — until now, that is. What is it Flake has done to earn his 15 minutes in the limelight? He has openly questioned the policies of our nation’s most controversial president in modern memory. Possibly ever.
Unfortunately for Americans, there’s a problem with Flake’s behavior — its uniqueness in comparison with Flake’s peers. Too many Republicans still won’t condemn the indefensible, offensive, ham-fisted behavior of their authoritarian leader, and for that, there is a price to pay.
How to Hijack an Elephant
The Constitution of the United States of America creates three distinct branches of government for good reason. Hypothetically, if one branch chooses to steer the country’s policy in a direction that is out of the best interest of American citizens, another can step in and veto the decision.
Inside of specific political parties, however, the checks and balances aren’t so well defined. The Republican party — a group that was founded around the movement to abolish slavery — is seeing their party commandeered by a man who ultimately lacks the intelligence or experience to craft a cogent political argument of any sort, and yet their response has mostly been to smile and nod.
Meanwhile, Trump has wasted no time rebranding the GOP through his cabinet of bigoted advisors, refusal to condemn racist acts and consistent decisions to about-face on campaign promises made to anyone other than his white middle-class base.
If this continues much longer without pushback from GOP members, they will find themselves unwitting members of the party of white nationalists and authoritarianism.
“Just Following Orders” is a Cop-Out
So what will it take for party discipline to break? Surely, there must be a tipping point at which Trump’s fellow party members can agree that his administration is no longer championing a set of values that represent the people in the party.
In the Jeff Flake example, the Republican senator publicly announced his $100 donation to Doug Jones, a Democrat and the opponent of alleged sex offender Roy Moore. On the check made out to Jones’ campaign, Flake wrote the note “Country over party,” meaning that when your party chooses to endorse sexual predators, you have every right to call them out for it.
Other federal employees have expressed discontent with Trump’s policies, but few have taken real action to speak out about it. It might come from their knowledge of Trump’s propensity for firing people a-la reality television, but US law guarantees protection for federal employees who challenge the validity of orders, even if they work for the president.
Who Do We Want to Be?
This is the question that Republicans need to ask themselves and demand that their peers ask each other. The bigoted policies that Trump has put forward might be distasteful to many, but they didn’t materialize out of thin air. Voters encouraged Trump’s positions on these issues.
Whether those voters are indicative of the Republican base or the people that traditional conservatives think of as their base is another question. 2016’s presidential election saw a 20-year low in voter visits to the polls, but the 55% of eligible voters who did turn out contained a large contingent of white supremacists and racists.
It’s quite possible that in 2020, the liberal backlash will be enough to cancel out Trump’s corn-fed coalition — but if the GOP continues to play to that crowd, Republicans are admitting that they accept the drastic change to their party’s identity that Trump has set in motion.