WASHINGTON — Four numbers illustrate why U.S. President Donald Trump is ensconced in the driver’s seat of the Republican party, steamrolling internal competition, turning rookie senator Jeff Flake into his latest political casualty.
The numbers are embedded in a massive new poll released just hours before the rookie Arizona senator announced his abrupt resignation, lamented the state of his party, and wondered aloud whether mainstream conservatives like him could still win nominations in this party.
The broadside from the outgoing senator continues with an op-ed in newspapers Wednesday titled, “Enough,” which warns of a sickness in the political system, and says people must speak up as they did against the red-baiting demagogue Joseph McCarthy.
“Nine months (of this administration) is more than enough for us to say, loudly and clearly: Enough,” Flake writes.
“We can no longer remain silent, merely observing this train wreck, passively, as if waiting for someone else to do something. The longer we wait, the greater the damage, the harsher the judgment of history.”
Flake’s is a lonely cause: Only a few elected Republicans dare criticize the president in public.
To understand why, just look at a giant survey released by Pew Research just hours before Flake’s speech to the Senate floor. Culled from 5,000 respondents, every three years, this version suggests the president is now clearly in control of his party.
The survey breaks up Americans into nine voter-types: Four categories lean Republican, four lean Democrat, and one is disinterested and disengaged from politics. What it finds is that the people most engaged in politics, those likeliest to donate, pound signs, and vote in primaries, love President Trump.
The approval rate for Trump among the four Republican-types was 93, 84, 66 and 63.
The least supportive of Trump at just 63 per cent are what Pew calls New Era Enterprisers — young, relatively well-off, more socially moderate, economic conservatives. That’s less than Market Skeptical Republicans (66 per cent) and Country First Conservatives (84 per cent).
But the greatest energy in the GOP comes from the Core Conservative category.
The poll says this group has an outsize influence on the party — while this financially comfortable, male-dominated group makes up just 13 per cent of the public, and 31 per cent of all Republican-leaners, it constitutes 43 per cent of politically engaged Republicans.
Its approval rate of the president: 93 per cent.
The few outspoken Trump critics so far are people who don’t intend to face these voters in a primary. Bob Corker announced he’s not seeking re-election — and now he’s warning the president is unstable and could cause World War Three.
John McCain, who is battling cancer, gave a speech last week deriding Trump’s protectionism and half-baked nationalism. Flake was a rare senator to say aloud about Trump what some colleagues merely grumble in private.
Now the rookie senator is quitting before being mauled in a primary, with polls putting him at a severe disadvantage. In his retirement announcement, Flake expressed alarm over what he calls reckless, abnormal, undignified and un-American behaviour.
”(Flake’s) begging his colleagues to step out of the shadows,” said David Lublin, a political scientist at American University. ”You have a prominent senator talking about how the president of his own party is a threat to democratic norms.”
Most other party politicians, Lublin said, employ considerable deflection skills whenever confronted with questions about Trump’s behaviour: “They shift the talk back to what they want, or to talk about how Democrats are even worse.”
Those skills were on display after Flake’s speech.
Lawmakers tiptoed over questions about Trump as limberly as acrobats on a balance beam. After saluting his friend Flake, congressman Duncan Hunter equivocated when asked by CNN whether he agreed with one of Flake’s assertions — that the president is a poor role model for kids.
Here’s Duncan’s reply: ”I think he’s a good role model in his business sense and now that he’s president of the United States, but I wouldn’t want my daughters talking like him, no, or my son for that matter — but I’m probably not a great role model either. We all have pasts and we all have futures. But no I would not want my kids talking like him — let’s put it that way.”
He added that he’s happy with the president because he agrees with most of his policies so far: “There’s no reason to speak out if we’re on the same side, and right now we’re on the same side.”
Another senator was asked on the same show whether he should call out the president’s more obvious lies.
“That’s your job,” Sen. James Risch shot back.
“If I went around criticizing a statement that was made by the president, or any one of my fellow senators, or any one of the congressmen up here, or people in Idaho who hold public office, and I stood up and talked every time they talked and said, ‘I don’t like this,’ and, ‘I don’t like that,’ and criticized, I’d be busy all day long. I have my own (things to do).”
He was asked whether he agrees with revoking licenses for media companies that attack the president, as Trump has threatened. Risch said he supports freedom of the press, but made clear he didn’t want to discuss this: “You’re trying to drag me into something.”
Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press
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