Jeff Flake said on Thursday that if a private vote were held on the matter, at least 35 Republican senators would choose to remove Donald Trump from office. I would be tempted to observe that this is a bit like saying that millions of Americans would fire their bosses and give themselves a 1000-percent raise if they could do so by pushing a magic button, but that would mean accepting Flake's underlying premise.
Why does he think that his former Senate colleagues have had it with the president? In case he hasn't noticed, with the not especially noteworthy exceptions of Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse, who have settled comfortably into their respective media niches as "sober elder statesman" and "last honest man in the GOP," Republicans are circling the wagons. This is the case across what passes for the conservative ideological spectrum in the post-Trump GOP, from hawkish moderates like Lindsey Graham to libertarians like Rand Paul to the paternalist maverick Josh Hawley. This is to say nothing of Mitch McConnell. "I've read the summary of the call. If this is the ‘launching point' for House Democrats' impeachment process, they've already overplayed their hand. It's clear there is no quid pro quo that the Democrats were desperately praying for," he told Politico on Wednesday.
Which seems more likely, that McConnell and his members are all pining for a return to the days when they lost two consecutive presidential elections but are burying this beautiful hope deep within their hearts, or that Flake is engaging in wish fulfillment here? From his current vantage point as a guy who gets paid to travel around the country lamenting the depravity of a president whose agenda he supported 81 percent of the time while in office (more frequently even than his Tea Party colleagues Rand Paul and Mike Lee) it might be difficult to understand, but the reality is that Trump is wildly popular with the GOP base and a boon for its members in both houses of Congress. If anything, I would guess that even Romney would not vote to remove Trump if his fans at The Atlantic would never learn about it.
This doesn't mean that in personal terms they like the president who has used a party to which he has not belonged for most of his life as a vehicle for his own political ambitions without much, or indeed perhaps any, regard for its long-term fortunes. I am even willing to believe that, in the circumstances described by Flake — i.e., in their private lives, as normal people — some of them would even be willing to venture the occasional criticism of a twice-divorced serial philanderer who thinks that apostrophes are hyphens. But there is space for a pretty wide range of opinion between grumbling about someone in private and secretly wishing to light your party on fire.
Flake also seems to be ignoring the reality that Trump's removal from office by a Republican Senate would not only be a disaster for the GOP but arguably the most radical action in the history of the American Congress. Neither of our two previously impeached presidents were removed from office. If Trump is impeached, which still seems unlikely enough anyway, the Senate is not going to bring him down.
It's hard out there for an ex Arizona senator. Nobody should begrudge Flake his various new rackets. But calling on members of your party to sacrifice everything in the name of certain nebulous principles — as opposed to actual concrete political differences — while you yourself have nothing to lose is not exactly a profile in courage.
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