First, the case against. The belief is that GOP voters overwhelmingly support the president, and that speaking up is to risk alienating voters at a critical time (i.e., the midterms). The greatest risk exists during primary season, when they could be faced with losing the opportunity to compete in the general election if their primary opponents hew to the president while they speak up.
The risk in the primaries is real enough. But we will not see for another couple of months whether that is the only risk the GOP candidates recognize. That is, post-primary will they continue to say nothing? How many will then speak up? I’m guessing not many.
The candidates are overestimating the risk of bucking this president. They are failing to account for the moderate voters who will punish them at the polls for giving cover to a depraved executive. They are underestimating the number of conservatives willing to hear criticism. Not MSNBC-esque criticism, mind you. But regular gee-shucks GOP-style criticism would be welcomed by Republican voters, even during the primaries.
In the primary it would bring in moderates. It might even bring in Democrats who want to hedge their bets that their candidate can win in November.
Now, campaigns that would consider speaking up lack a pipeline. It’s well-established that the political rhetoric on the GOP side flows from special interest groups like Koch-funded PACs and Adelson-funded PACs, through conservative media, and gets picked up by campaigns. But there is an easy fix: recycling.
Most of the criticisms that the GOP used for years against President Obama are things they can criticize Trump for. He’s all executive action. He has few real legislative accomplishments, and those he has were all hands-off. They were done by Republican legislators, without any real help from Trump. So just dust off those old talking points and you have a search-and-replace function change the names.
It gives the candidates the ability to say they’re consistent, particularly if they can find clips of their primary opponents critical of Obama for the things they’re giving Trump a pass on.
The real risk isn’t the primary, but the general election. It may well be that the public is wary enough of Trump that even a good moderate Republican will go down in November.
Without Republicans standing up to Trump, many of his voters will remain hardened against reality. They will only depart from their anger-fueled reverence for the irreverent if they hear some voices of reason that speak their language. They need to hear the McCains and Flakes say their piece against what can only be seen as a president divorced from the American goalpost of international order and economic prosperity for all.
When you go to church of whatever flavor, you repeat the same things week to week. Repetition is a key to learning. The refrains of our shared values as humans help to buttress them against erosion. But one of the common voices of the refrain now silent, the others must grow louder. The Republicans need to speak up.