Speaking truth to power is important — but it matters little if the words aren’t backed up by action. And there may not be a more apparent truth than the moral bankruptcy of the country’s most powerful person, President Donald Trump.
Everybody in politics knows this. On the Republican side, most lawmakers or members of the administration will only acknowledge it when being granted anonymity — because Trump now so dominates the GOP that they fear repercussions. Every now and then, however, somebody will go on the record and say what is undeniably obvious.
Last year, these were mostly lawmakers who were on the way out, such as Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Bob Corker (R-TN). This week, the new congressional session began with newly elected Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) penning an op-ed in which he concluded that Trump’s “character falls short,” which is a monumental understatement.
If history is any indication, however, Romney will not let actions follow his words. Instead, he will walk in near lockstep with a party that seems willing to follow Trump off whatever cliff he is hurtling toward. Whether that is the administration’s barbaric child separation policy, destroying the environment, sabotaging health care for those most in need, or cutting programs for the poor.
That’s unfortunate because Republican senators, in particular, could be a vital check on the president. In a closely divided Senate, they have a lot of influence. Flake provided a glimpse of that last year when he single-handedly gummed up the works for weeks after refusing to support any of Trump’s judicial nominees unless he got a vote on legislation protecting special counsel Robert Mueller.
Of course, he easily could have gone much further. Flake’s vote, for example, was vital to confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. If he felt so strongly about protecting Mueller, why did he not make his support for Kavanaugh contingent on legislation shielding the special counsel from Trump?
For Romney, the proof is in the pudding. With a slightly larger GOP majority, it will be more difficult for him to use his position to effect meaningful changes from the Trump administration. The rest of the remaining GOP senators have already shown that they are spineless. But it can be done.
Romney got a coveted Senate Foreign Relations Committee seat, which would allow him to highlight his foreign policy differences. He could also use holds or other procedural gimmicks to slow Senate business to a crawl.
Will he? It’s unlikely. If he doesn’t, he is even worse than the other cowards in the GOP because he has already shown with his op-ed that he knows exactly who Trump is. By not acting to keep the president from taking a wrecking ball to US institutions and relationships, Romney and others like him are complicit — and history will judge them harshly.
Down the road, it won’t matter that they occasionally spoke out or once wrote an editorial lamenting that the president lacks character. All people will care about is what they did about it.
The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: Mitt Romney caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), tiles (Ralf Steinberger / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), and clothespin (Erik Burton / Flickr – CC BY 2.0).