Sound Off! Trump Turns His Attacks Toward GOP By Luke Perry
We’re a long way from impeachment, removal or resignation, but this week was unusual even by current standards as Donald Trump turned his personal attacks toward people in his administration with important ties to the GOP.
For starters, Sean Spicer resigned when Anthony Scaramucci became President Trump’s new communications director. Priebus and Spicer have long been close personally and professionally as they worked together at the Republican National Committee.
Scaramucci thought he was going to have a position in the White House post election, but didn't because of objections by Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Since taking over, Scaramucci has prioritized ending leaks within the White House, with particular focus on Priebus, even threatening that Trump would fire Priebus if he leaked.
This suggests that perhaps Trump brought Scaramucci in to prompt Spicer and Priebus to leave. The official announcement of Scaramucci’s hiring states that he reports directly to Trump, not Priebus. This was unusual and unsustainable. Just days later, Priebus was ousted as Chief of Staff.
This week Trump also criticized GOP Senators for not being sufficiently loyal to him during The Affordable Care Act “repeal and replace” efforts. Trump has already campaigned against specific Senators who have not sufficiently backed him, including Dean Heller (NV) and Jeff Flake (AZ).
Meanwhile, Trump has repeatedly attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation in an apparent effort to prompt him to resign. Sessions, who served twenty years in the Senate, was the first Senator to support Trump’s candidacy. Now GOP Senators have begun to draw a “red line” against firing Sessions and Robert Mueller, who the president has also sought to discredit.
All this has made prominent Republicans defensive. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan defended his friend, and fellow Wisconsinite Reince Priebus, claiming he is “doing a fantastic job.”
Several GOP Senators, including Richard Shelby (AL), Rob Portman (OH), and Tom Cotton (AR), have publicly defended Jeff Sessions. Lindsey Graham (SC) stated yesterday that firing Mueller “could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.”
On top of all this, the president recently blindsided Congressional Republicans by tweeting out new policy regarding transgender people in the military. The Department of Defense won’t enforce the ban on transgender people until they get specific guidance from the White House.
Many GOP Senators have expressed their opposition to the ban, including moderates and more ideological Republicans. Even Senior GOP Senator Orrin Hatch (UT), a consistent ideological conservative, believes the ban is discriminatory and unwise.
What can we make of all this?
It’s incredibly risky for Trump to disconnect himself from the Republican Party, no matter how frustrated he may be. The party is his best defense against an impeachment threat. This isn’t a purely abstract consideration since Articles of impeachment for obstruction of justice have been introduced.
Of course, these articles are unlikely to move forward while Republicans control the House. This could change. David Ignatious has already called the 2018 midterm the “impeachment election.”
Even if Democrats don’t regain the House next year, Trump’s recent behavior hasn’t reflected much concern about self-preservation, or if it has, demonstrates a deep misunderstanding of party politics as Trump increasingly insults, irritates, and alienates indispensable political allies.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College. His column Sound Off! critiques various aspects of presidential politics.