Early Returns

Is Trump's Republican Support Starting to Crumble?

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

A crack in the foundation.

Photographer: Ralph Freso/Getty Images

Very conservative Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona has gone on the offensive against Donald Trump, slamming the Republican president in a new book and a Politico op-ed. 

This brings me back to the biggest debate between the smart political scientists I listen to: How much have Republicans in Congress stood up to Trump's reckless, lawless behavior? 

One group of scholars -- along with, as far as I can see, most liberal Democrats -- argues that they haven't done much at all. Sure, Flake and some others will at times call Trump out on his excesses, but (they believe) there have been few actions to match those words. It's certainly true that almost all of Trump's executive-branch nominees have received solid backing from Republicans. And Republicans, especially those in the Senate, just don't appear to be attempting to force Trump to change his behavior. 

And yet another group of scholars has almost the exact opposite interpretation of the same events. They emphasize that in politics, words are a form of action, and they note how rare it is in the current world of partisan polarization to hear even mild same-party criticism of a new president, let alone the extremely harsh words Flake and others have used. This group acknowledges that Trump nominees have usually been confirmed but also notes that it's quite possible Republican senators have prevented some terrible picks from being made in the first place. At any rate, they say, the serious investigations by Senate committees are highly unusual for a Congress to inflict on a new same-party administration.

I've generally been more sympathetic to the latter group. I don't think people appreciate just how unusual flat-out same-party attacks on a president are. I do think Trump's various transgressions have given Republicans in Congress extraordinary leverage against him, and I see no evidence they've used it.

But it's early. Just as it's very possible Trump's terrible public opinion numbers so far have nevertheless been a kind of honeymoon period for him and he'll eventually sink lower, it's also possible, and understandable, that Republicans were willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt for a while. If that's the case, then it's quite possible that tough words from Republicans in Congress will soon increasingly be coupled with even tougher actions than they have taken so far. And if that's the case, this president is in big trouble indeed.

1. Dan Drezner on Donald Trump, no strategic super-genius

2. Seth Masket on skill and congressional leadership. 

3. Mitchell Sellers at the Monkey Cage on transgender people in the military.

4. Alexander B. Downes and Lindsey A. O'Rourke, also at the Monkey Cage, on regime change and Iran.

5. Dan Larison on Trump's damage to the State Department

6. And my Bloomberg View colleague Cass R. Sunstein argues that sitting presidents cannot be prosecuted

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    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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