Many Republican members of Congress have made a Faustian bargain with Donald Trump. They don’t particularly admire him as a man, they don’t trust him as an administrator, they don’t agree with him on major issues, but they respect the grip he has on their voters, they hope he'll sign their legislation and they certainly don’t want to be seen siding with the inflamed progressives or the hyperventilating media.
Their position was at least comprehensible: How many times in a lifetime does your party control all levers of power? When that happens you’re willing to tolerate a little Trumpian circus behavior in order to get things done.
But if the last two weeks have made anything clear, it’s this: The Republican Fausts are in an untenable position. The deal they’ve struck with the devil comes at too high a price. It really will cost them their soul.
In the first place, the Trump administration is not a Republican administration; it is an ethnic nationalist administration. Trump insulted both parties equally in his Inaugural Address. The Bannonites are utterly crushing the Republican regulars when it comes to actual policymaking.
The administration has swung sharply anti-trade. Trump’s economic instincts are corporatist, not free market. If Barack Obama tried to lead from behind, Trump’s foreign policy involves actively running away from global engagement. Outspoken critics of Paul Ryan are being given White House jobs, and at the same time, if Reince Priebus has a pulse it is not externally evident.
Second, even if Trump’s ideology were not noxious, his incompetence is a threat to all around him. To say that it is amateur hour at the White House is to slander amateurs. The recent executive orders were drafted and signed without any normal agency review or even semicoherent legal advice, filled with elemental errors that any nursery school student would have caught.
It seems that the Trump administration is less a government than a small clique of bloggers and tweeters who are incommunicado with the people who actually help them get things done. Things will get really hairy when the world’s problems are incoming.
Third, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the aroma of bigotry infuses the whole operation, and anybody who aligns too closely will end up sharing in the stench.
The administration could have simply tightened up the refugee review process and capped the refugee intake at 50,000, but instead went out of its way to insult Islam. The administration could have simply tightened up immigration procedures, but Trump went out of his way to pick a fight with all of Mexico.
Other Republicans have gone far out of their way to make sure the war on terrorism is not a war on Islam or on Arabs, but Trump has gone out of his way to ensure the opposite. The racial club is always there.
Fourth, it is hard to think of any administration in recent memory, on any level, whose identity is so tainted by cruelty. The Trump administration is often harsh and never kind. It is quick to inflict suffering on the 8-year-old Syrian girl who’s been bombed and strafed and lost her dad. Its deportation vows mean that in the years ahead, the TV screens will be filled with weeping families being pulled apart.
None of these traits will improve with time. As former Bush administration official Eliot Cohen wrote in The Atlantic, “Precisely because the problem is one of temperament and character, it will not get better. It will get worse, as power intoxicates Trump and those around him. It will probably end in calamity – substantial domestic protest and violence, a breakdown of international economic relationships, the collapse of major alliances, or perhaps one or more new wars (even with China) on top of the ones we already have. It will not be surprising in the slightest if his term ends not in four or in eight years, but sooner, with impeachment or removal under the 25th Amendment.”
The danger signs are there in profusion. Sooner or later, the Republican Fausts will face a binary choice. As they did under Nixon, Republican leaders will have to either oppose Trump and risk his tweets, or sidle along with him and live with his stain.
Trump exceeded expectations with his Cabinet picks, but his first 10 days in office have made clear this is not a normal administration. It is a problem that demands a response. It is a callous, bumbling group that demands either personal loyalty or the ax.
Already one sees John McCain and Lindsey Graham forming a bit of a Republican opposition. The other honorable senators will have to choose: Collins, Alexander, Portman, Corker, Cotton, Sasse and so on and so on.
With most administrations you can agree sometimes and disagree other times. But this one is a danger to the party and the nation in its existential nature. And so sooner or later all will have to choose what side they are on, and live forever after with the choice.