In interviews with the New York Times, Republican lawmakers past and present admit that Donald Trump has such a hold on the party that there is little choice but to go along with his policies and defend him or face his wrath and consider retirement.
The report notes, "Just under four years after he began his takeover of a party to which he had little connection, Mr. Trump enters 2020 burdened with the ignominy of being the first sitting president to seek re-election after being impeached," adding, "But he does so wearing a political coat of armor built on total loyalty from G.O.P. activists and their representatives in Congress. If he does not enjoy the broad admiration Republicans afforded Ronald Reagan, he is more feared by his party’s lawmakers than any occupant of the Oval Office since at least Lyndon Johnson."According to one former GOP lawmaker from Michigan, he was faced with the dilemma of bucking the president in 2017, and knew what would happen if he did.
"By the summer of 2017, Dave Trott, a two-term Republican congressman, was worried enough about President Trump’s erratic behavior and his flailing attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act that he criticized the president in a closed-door meeting with fellow G.O.P. lawmakers," the Times reports." The response was instantaneous — but had nothing to do with the substance of Mr. Trott’s concerns. 'Dave, you need to know somebody has already told the White House what you said,' he recalled a colleague telling him. 'Be ready for a barrage of tweets.'"
According to the ex-lawmaker he chose to not run for his seat again, "If I was still there and speaking out against the president, what would happen to me?”
Trott is not alone in expressing the hardships of being a Republican who doesn't agree with the president.
"Interviews with current and former Republican lawmakers as well as party strategists, many of whom requested anonymity so as not to publicly cross the president, suggest that many elected officials are effectively faced with two choices. They can vote with their feet by retiring — and a remarkable 40 percent of Republican members of Congress have done so or have been defeated at the ballot box since Mr. Trump took office," the report notes. "Or they can mute their criticism of him. All the incentives that shape political behavior — with voters, donors and the news media — compel Republicans to bow to Mr. Trump if they want to survive."
Now out of office, Trott feels free to criticize the president in more explicit terms by stating, "Trump is emotionally, intellectually and psychologically unfit for office, and I’m sure a lot of Republicans feel the same way. But if they say that, the social media barrage will be overwhelming.”
Former Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) agreed that Trump's ire provides an opening for GOP challengers.
“The greatest fear any member of Congress has these days is losing a primary,” he explained. "That’s the foremost motivator.”
According to the report, "The incentive to show fealty to Mr. Trump has become evident to the Club for Growth, a fiscal conservative group that was made famous for its willingness to tangle with Republican leaders and was hostile to Mr. Trump in 2016," with group President David McIntosh admitting, "Poll after poll showed us that Republican primary voters wanted their nominees to support President Trump, so in order to make sure they were viable and would get re-elected, they ended up being supporters of his.”
Retiring GOP lawmaker Francis Rooney of Florida has joined the exodus fleeing Trump and told the Times, "Public officials need to be held accountable, and I don’t think any governmental system works well with blind loyalty without reason.”
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