Most congressional Republicans appear to be responding to Monday’s indictments by changing the subject, talking about how great tax cuts are, or just going into hiding. Some commentators seem to think they are carrying water for Donald Trump by ducking the question. They are wrong.
Their silence is very, very bad news for Donald Trump.
The normal reaction from members of Congress to bad news for a same-party president isn’t to duck and hide. It’s to adopt the White House’s talking points.
In this case, members of Congress could easily emphasize that Trump wasn’t personally implicated in these indictments, or that none of those charged currently held White House positions. They could go further, too, following the (preposterous) Fox News line that special prosecutor Robert Mueller has conflicts of his own and that the one who really should be charged is Hillary Clinton.
Instead? Mostly some mumbling about letting the system take its course. At least two senators even explicitly supported Mueller.
I’m going to repeat: That’s very, very bad news for Trump.
It suggests what we all suspect: The president has few if any real allies in Congress, and furthermore that virtually no one believes anything he says.
Of course, Trump has repeatedly earned his awful professional reputation, specifically the part in which everyone knows that he’s willing to say things that are not only untrue, but also obviously untrue when he says them. So when Trump shouts that “there is NO COLLUSION!” it’s very unlikely that there are many Republicans on the Hill who give it any weight at all.
Sure, it would be nice if every House and Senate Republican applauded Mueller for his good work so far and urged him to get to the bottom of it all. But it’s a big mistake to read their silence as support for the White House.
Yes, it’s true: Republicans badly want their tax plan to pass. They want that, presumably, because they think it would be great for the nation, and they'll continue to think that regardless of who the president is or what he’s done. But the fact that Paul Ryan (for one) changed the topic to tax cuts when asked about the indictments doesn’t mean anything except that Ryan doesn’t want to publicly support a Republican in the White House, and in fact may be terrified to do it because he assumes there’s more bad news to come that could undercut any talking points he repeats.
And that he feels no pressure from House Republicans to do so.
Reach Jonathan Bernstein at email@example.com.