It’s always helpful when Republican members of Congress leave Capitol Hill and begin speaking their minds without fear of political consequences. Take this New York Times report from earlier in the week, for example.
By the summer of 2017, Dave Trott, a two-term Republican congressman, was worried enough about President Trump’s erratic behavior and his flailing attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act that he criticized the president in a closed-door meeting with fellow G.O.P. lawmakers.
The response was instantaneous – but had nothing to do with the substance of Mr. Trott’s concerns. “Dave, you need to know somebody has already told the White House what you said,” he recalled a colleague telling him.
Note the context: Trott expressed criticisms of Donald Trump in private. He was nevertheless warned to watch his step because the president’s supporters, on the lookout, were likely to report the congressman’s transgressions. Republicans were expected to show loyalty to Trump at all times, even behind closed doors. A healthy political environment it was not.
It wasn’t long before Trott announced his retirement. In the 2018 midterm elections, he was replaced by a Democrat in a GOP-friendly district.
The former congressman has not, however, forgotten about the lessons he learned and his impressions of those in positions of authority. “Trump is emotionally, intellectually and psychologically unfit for office,” Trott told the Times, “and I’m sure a lot of Republicans feel the same way.”
In a letter to the editor in the print edition of The Atlantic, the Michigan Republican added that he considers the president “unfit for office.” Trott went on to tell the Detroit News he “probably would have” voted to impeach Trump, and as things stand, he’s also considering voting Democratic in the 2020 presidential election.
It’s difficult to say with confidence just how many GOP members are left who are as cognizant of Trump’s failings, though it’s likely the number is relatively small. The Times’ report added that a “remarkable 40 percent of Republican members of Congress have done so or have been defeated at the ballot box since Mr. Trump took office.”
What’s left is a smaller, more ideologically cohesive GOP conference, free of too much dissent.
But regardless of the number, Republicans can’t bring themselves to be as candid because they realize it’s Trump’s party now, and they’re too overcome with fear – of tweets, of conservative media, of primary rivals, of long-term career prospects – to say what Trott had the courage to say.