On Monday, economist Niels Rosenquist wrote a lengthy theory for The Bulwark about how Republicans are kept in line defending President Donald Trump — and how that solid wall of support might crumble.
"The Republican base, which President Trump has consolidated among whites without college degrees and evangelicals, loves him," wrote Rosenquist. "But a subtler explanation may be closer to correct ... What if Republican members of Congress consider themselves so completely at the mercy of public opinion that they feel politically paralyzed—as if putting any distance between themselves and the president guarantees they will soon be sprucing up their LinkedIn profiles? That sounds a lot like an ecosystem dominated by Fox News, talk radio, Donald Trump, and the GOP primary electorate."
"To put it another way, these GOP elected officials are price takers," wrote Rosenquist. "'Price taking' is a concept from economics wherein a firm or individual has no sway over the market, essentially meaning that they could 'take it or leave it,' paying the market price or not. The political analogy here is that in order for these Republican members of Congress to 'buy' (get) what they want (reelection), they can either pay full price (defend the president or at least stay silent about him, while voting in lockstep with him), or refuse to and not get what they want and get primaried out."
The only way Republicans will reject Trump, concluded Rosenquist, is if they all do it at once. And there's only one person who can make them do that: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
"Since becoming the leader of the Senate Republicans in 2007, McConnell has proven remarkably adept at maintaining unity in the caucus," wrote Rosenquist. "His ability to impose his will on his colleagues has earned grudging respect even from Democrats. Given many Senate Republicans’ apparent private disdain for the president, all it might take for Senator McConnell to convince a number of off-cycle Republicans to join him in opposing the president would be an argument that removing Trump would improve their reelection chances in 2022 and 2024: They would be better off by acting swiftly and in unison now to put a President Pence in place."
"He is also a forward-looking politician, and he apparently cares deeply about how he will be perceived by history," continued Rosenquist. "What will be Senator McConnell’s legacy if he continues to support Trump no matter what? He will be able to point to judicial appointments and tax reform, but he will have to share credit for those accomplishments with President Trump. And McConnell’s legacy will be loaded down with all of the baggage that comes with enabling Trump—including not only the baggage of the president’s actions and words, but also the loss of constituencies from the Republican party (such as women and suburbanites)."
"Is Senator McConnell actually likely to provide a way out for the rational cowards in his caucus?" concluded Rosenquist. "Probably not — unless the president continues to slip in the polls and stumble on policy. If Donald Trump continues to weaken, then for Mitch McConnell to convince his colleagues to act collectively against the president would be not only brave but rational."
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