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With Him or Against Him?

Omri Nahmias, Washington, D.C.

Has the president lost whatever fragile grip he once held over his party? A look at his allies, his adversaries, and those who’ve switched sides

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

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TAKING SIDES In this chaotic atmosphere, Republicans who have separated themselves from the president are seen as trying to reap the benefits of opposition by highlighting every stumble the president makes instead of standing behind him (Photos: AFP ImageBank)

T en months after he stunned the world and won the US presidential election, the party Donald J. Trump rode to victory is now in open rebellion against him.

Yes — it’s gotten that bad.

GOP leaders are at wit’s end with Trump, the flamboyant former real-estate tycoon turned politician, who sounds presidential one day, and outlandish the next.

Take last week, for example. His address last Monday night at Fort Myer, in Arlington, Virginia, outlining his Afghanistan and south Asia policies, was sober and levelheaded. “We will no longer use American military might to construct democracies in faraway lands, or try to rebuild other countries in our own image,” Trump said.

A day later, at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona, Americans witnessed the unplugged version of Trump, delivering a speech that even supporters found inflammatory and divisive. Defending himself against charges that he was soft on hate groups following demonstrations by neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan groups in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump denied it, but in an inarticulate fashion. “I hit ’em with neo-Nazi. I hit them with everything. I got the white supremacists, the neo-Nazi. I got them all in there. Let’s see, K.K.K., we have K.K.K.”

Trump has insisted that he’s not an ideologue and is only interested in getting things done. But the bottom line is, 200 days into his presidency, the cracks between Trump’s character and the party establishment are threatening to rupture into a significant chasm.

The most recent conflagration was the events in Charlottesville, and what many viewed as the president’s weak condemnations. That led a number of Republican lawmakers to attack Trump openly and by name.

Of course, the president swung back, singling out Arizona senator Jeff Flake in a speech on the senator’s home turf in Phoenix, and providing political support for a state senator who is hoping to unseat Flake in next year’s GOP primary.

“You have to recognize that our party’s leadership was selling a product that wasn’t that popular” - Sen. Tom Cotton

Neither Flake nor Arizona’s other Republican senator, John McCain, attended Trump’s rally, nor did Arizona’s Republican governor Douglas Ducey. Many surmised that the trio simply voted with their feet out — worried that Trump would use their presence to announce a pardon for former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, who built his career on tough anti-immigration rhetoric. Indeed, the president did pardon Arpaio of a minor charge, but not until later in the week.

In short, Republicans are caught in a catch-22: They are repelled by the president’s unbridled style, yet need him to succeed to bolster the party and their own chances at the polls.

When Republicans come back from their summer recess in September, the rubber will meet the road. President Trump and the GOP leadership must agree on legislation that will keep the federal government open and raise the debt limit, but Trump has his own agenda. He wants to build a wall along the Mexican border, overhaul the US tax system, and introduce a massive infrastructure spending plan. Of course, all of that will require the consent of the party that controls both houses of Congress — his own.

In this chaotic atmosphere, Republicans who have separated themselves from the president are seen as trying to reap the benefits of opposition by highlighting every stumble the president makes instead of standing behind him.

Others have remained firmly on the president’s side, either because they back his positions, feel he deserves more time to settle into the Oval Office, or are politically savvy enough to recognize that a large plurality of rank-and-file Republican voters still back Trump. In short, if these GOP lawmakers turn their backs on the president, they may be hurting themselves more than the president.

So who is behind Trump, and who opposes him? Who has switched sides? Here’s a look at a few key members who can sway their colleagues in either direction. Some of them hold key positions on important committees, while others are simply influential voices. Any of them might set the tone for the GOP for the coming months. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 675)

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