Early Returns

In Defense of Republicans

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

Time for a few words in defense of Republicans in Congress. Every time there's a new development in the Trump-Russia scandal or the president tweets out something terribly inappropriate, Democrats and some neutral observers jump to mock congressional Republicans who, invariably, will express "disappointment" or "concern." 

The critics point out that those same Republicans will then move back to passing the Republican agenda. We are told that they're willing to tolerate Donald Trump as long as they get to throw people off Medicaid and pass large tax cuts for the rich.

That's really a non sequitur, however. 

To begin with, slashing Medicaid and rates for upper-income taxpayers isn't Trump's agenda; it's what congressional Republicans have advocated for years. Whatever one thinks of those policies, it would make no sense at all for them to abandon their own priorities just because the president behaves badly (or potentially criminally). 

Indeed, when it comes to items more closely associated with Trump, Republicans in Congress don't seem very interested. There's no sign of an infrastructure bill, they haven't funded the border wall or shown much interest in doing so, and the Senate overwhelmingly passed a Russia sanctions bill that may well move through the House as well.

And when it comes to scandals? Republicans have shown enthusiasm for the president when he does things they like, regardless of what else he does. But they've also failed repeatedly to rally to him on several topics, even if most of them just hide from the cameras. That matters; elite signals affect public opinion. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham may not be as critical as Trump deserves, but by the standard of same-party politicians during the first six months of a presidency, they're doing reasonably well. 

While I'm still not holding my breath that the House investigation will do much, the Senate Intelligence Committee hearings have been at least reasonably serious. Sure, some Republicans acted as administration apologists, but others asked tough questions, and the very fact of any kind of real investigation is already rare. 

I've had plenty of specific criticisms for congressional Republicans in how they're handling the Trump situation, and I'm sure I'll have more. And they brought this on themselves by dithering instead of picking a horse during the 2016 presidential nomination contest, failing perhaps to realize that the long-term risks involved in an awful nomination are greater than the short-term risks of backing one candidate against others. But it's unfair -- and just poor analysis -- to treat support and opposition as having only two possible settings rather than the many gradations that exist in real politics. And it's poor partisan advocacy, anyway, to pretend that Republicans are all fine with their unpopular president rather than stress just how little support he appears to have. 

1. Dan Drezner on conservatives and colleges.

2. My Bloomberg View colleague Timothy L. O'Brien on Donald Trump Jr. and his father

3. Sarah Kliff on the new version of the Senate health-care bill and preexisting conditions. 

4. Kevin Drum on life in the White House these days. My only comment: A whole lot of people seem to be ignoring what seems to me to be very, very bad news for Jared Kushner in the Trump Jr. news. Whatever the direct legal situation (and if Trump Jr. is in trouble for accepting the meeting, it seems quite possible to me that the others who attended are, too), the political situation is just untenable at this point. I suppose anything is possible given the president's arbitrary way of doing things, but it's hard to believe Kushner's White House job can survive this one. 

5. And Elizabeth A. Sharrow, Tatishe M. Nteta and Melinda R. Tarsi at the Monkey Cage with new research about public opinion and Washington's pro football team.

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

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    Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net

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