Political News

Will Republicans find their courage to stand up to Trump?

Posted June 19, 2018 6:31 p.m. EDT

— Over the past 48 hours, a who's who of Republican congressional leaders -- and governors -- have come forward to protest the Trump administration's policy of family separation at the border.

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch called the policy decision "wrong." Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse said that "Americans do not take children hostage."

The question before congressional Republicans -- even as they huddled Tuesday night with President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill -- was whether they will do more than oppose him rhetorically, and whether that opposition will, as it has before, crumble in the face of an activated Trump base.

A brief stroll through the history of Trump and the GOP establishment suggests that caution is warranted when declaring that the Republican leaders in Congress have finally had enough of some of the President's more radical actions.

Remember that the likes of Speaker Paul Ryan repeatedly distanced themselves from Trump during the campaign, going so far as to effectively disavow the nominee in the wake of the release of the "Access Hollywood" tape in October 2016.

And yet, Ryan and the rest came aboard rapidly once Trump shocked the world by beating Hillary Clinton. The belief among that crowd was a) Trump won so it's better to be with a winner than, well, not and b) Trump lacked any real policy agenda or beliefs so they could simply graft what they wanted onto him.

What that calculation missed was Trump's love for unpredictable behavior (his threat that he might not sign the omnibus budget deal worked out to avert a government shutdown) and massively impolitic comments (there was blame on "both sides" in Charlottesville).

And yet, even amid that erratic behavior, a familiar cycle just kept emerging: 1) Republican leaders would say something like "I wish he had said it differently" 2) They would insist that they were more than capable of telling Trump he was wrong 3) Things would go back to normal within a day or two.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Will this showdown over family separation be different? Will Republicans make good on their pledges that the policy needs to change -- and change now? And even if some sort of deal on family separation is worked out now, what will happen this fall when Trump threatens a government shutdown unless he gets the $25 billion in funding he wants to build the border wall?

The Point: Republicans, whether motivated by electoral fear, endless optimism or some of both, have been unwilling to actively oppose Trump in meaningful ways (i.e., more than just the occasional harshly-worded statement) since it became clear he would be their nominee back in 2016. Has the family separation fight fundamentally altered that calculus?

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