Sen. Lisa Murkowski just admitted what we’ve all known about the GOP for a while now


JUNE 5, 2020


Sen. Lisa Murkowski said the quiet part out loud.

WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 18: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) talks with reporters before attending the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon outside the Mansfield Room at the U.S. Capitol July 18, 2017 in Washington, DC. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said there are not enough votes for his plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act but he plans on introducing legislation this week that would simply repeal Obamacare. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Asked her thoughts Thursday about former Defense Secretary James Mattis’ excoriation of President Donald Trump’s behavior in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd, the Alaska Republican said this:

“When I saw General Mattis’ comments yesterday I felt like perhaps we are getting to a point where we can be more honest with the concerns that we might hold internally and have the courage of our own convictions to speak up.”

Which, whoa!

Make no mistake what Murkowski is acknowledging here: that many of her fellow Republicans — and, presumably, her colleagues in the Senate — have long held deep doubts about Trump and his conduct, but have lacked the courage of their convictions to speak out about those worries.

This is, of course, something we’ve long known or at least long strongly suspected about the many elected GOP leaders in Congress. That if given truth serum — or, more likely in the nation’s capital, given the chance to speak without their names attached to the quotes — a majority of those congressional Republicans would express something that lands between doubt and utter terror about the way the President conducts himself and what it means for the future of the party.

What Murkowski is hoping, in raw political terms, is that Mattis’ credibility and the high esteem in which he is held by many Republicans will serve as a sort of tipping point. If Mattis is willing to say what he thinks about Trump, then why shouldn’t I? That sort of thing.

The early returns are, uh, not promising.

“It’s General Mattis’ opinion, he’s free to express it,” Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson told CNN.

“It’s just politically fashionable to blame Trump for everything — and I’m not buying it,” said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

“I haven’t read it,” said Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman of the Mattis statement.

(Side rant: How the hell is Portman’s answer — and he’s far from alone in this — an acceptable answer for a UNITED STATES SENATOR? Like, Portman is sooooo busy that he can’t make time to read what Mattis wrote? It’s a statement, not “War and Peace.” And it seems like the former secretary of defense criticizing the President for lacking any instinct to bring the country together feels like sort of a big story that a senator should be aware of?)

After this piece first published, Portman’s office reached out to note that after he said he hadn’t read Mattis’ comments, he also added, “I’ve seen your reporting about it. … He’s a decorated war hero and, you know, has got an amazing reputation and career so I want to take what he says seriously, but I happen to think that the President has said the right with regard to what happened in Minneapolis.”

The reason for this sort of hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil approach by the vast majority of Senate Republicans to the Mattis statement is, put plainly, political cowardice.

Every single GOP senator — and House member — is aware of what happened to then-Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake when he spoke out in 2017 against Trump. Trump attacked him. Claimed that he was not really a Republican. (Flake had one of the most conservative voting records in the Senate during his time there.) And Flake’s numbers plummeted, forcing him to choose retirement over a near-certain primary loss fueled by his willingness to say that Trump was doing damage to the GOP.

Trump celebrated Flake’s retirement and took credit for it. He also suggested that anyone else who got out of line would get the same treatment. And when Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash, who, like Flake, had a near-perfect conservative record, came out in favor of Trump’s impeachment, Trump savaged him — leading Amash to leave the Republican Party entirely.

And so, with very limited exceptions — Murkowski, Amash and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney being the most prominent — almost no senator or House member has dared step out of line.

Not because they agree with Trump. But because they apparently value getting reelected — or at least not having to beat back a Trump-inspired primary challenge — more than they care about, in Murkowski’s words, “the courage of our own convictions.”

After all, some of Trump’s most vocal critics within the party have, with no real explanation as to why, pivoted into his most ardent defenders.

“I think he’s a kook,” Graham said of Trump in 2016. “I think he’s crazy. I think he’s unfit for office.”

“Donald Trump is a delusional narcissist and an orange-faced windbag,” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said in 2016.

“Whatever lie he’s telling, at that minute he believes it … the man is utterly amoral,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said of Trump in 2016.

What explains that transformation, if not pure political calculation? The answer is, well, you know what the answer is.

History very rarely looks back kindly on those who put personal political gain and ambition over doing what they know is right. At some point — whether next year or in early 2025 — Trump will no longer be President. Or the leader of the Republican Party. And on that day — and a lot of days after it — Republican elected officials will have to look back at the past four or eight years and ask themselves whether they stood on the “courage of their convictions” or the cravenness of their political aspirations.

At the moment, that bit of introspection will likely leave a large majority of Republicans wishing they had taken a very different course.

Courtesy/Source: CNN