Colorado Editorials

The Colorado Springs Gazette: Republican Party is like a bad marriage

Author: Erin Prater - October 26, 2017 - Updated: October 26, 2017

c03ea3c145c7cc0efd61a401ef507e4d.jpg
parksThe view from the entrance of Cheyenne Mountain State Park with Cheyenne Mountain in the background. (Colorado Springs Gazette file photo)

Ask anyone in a happy marriage how they do it, and they’re likely to mention communication. They’re also likely to say that there’s nothing wrong with fighting now and then.

The husband and wife who can communicate – even to communicate anger with one another – have an advantage. But the ones that don’t communicate, that hold everything inside, are bound to explode upon one another someday in a destructive and unbridled rage.

The Republican Party of 2017 is that latter couple, which wouldn’t speak up about disagreements until the pots and pans began flying this week.

We have already seen, firsthand, the failure to communicate. We have brought in or visited many Republican officeholders and noticed the inability they share in common to offer even modest, constructive criticism of their new partner, President Trump.

This weighed on our minds as we saw Sen. Jeff Flake. R-Ariz., take to the Senate floor to demand a divorce Tuesday night. Earlier that day, we thought of it when Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., hurled proverbial dishes at Trump, calling him an already-failed president who will be remembered chiefly for “the debasement of our nation.”

Early in the Trump days, we asked Mark Walker, the Republican Study Committee’s chairman, whether Trump was making it harder to spread the conservative message to new communities, as Walker had hoped to. “Some of the rhetoric, um, can be a little tough at times,” Walker said, but only right before praising Trump’s “very strong” style.

In February, we asked Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, if Trump’s threats against judges erode the separation of powers. “It’s not particularly helpful,” Lee said. “But compared to other threats that we have to federalism and separation of powers, that is miniscule.”

This unproductive silence about Trump showed up in establishment and anti-establishment Republicans alike. We saw it in House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. We saw it in Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who savaged House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., with a smile, but then demurred repeatedly when asked to disagree with or criticize Trump.

We had the same experience when we asked Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairmen of the House Freedom Caucus, whether Trump’s inconsistency, fruitless fights, or policy inexperience were making their jobs more difficult. Both declined to criticize the president, even as Trump was attacking them with nasty tweets.

This failure to communicate creates a vicious cycle. It encourages Trump’s more bombastic and irritating idiosyncrasies, in turn causing more and more Republican members of Congress to simmer with an anger that they are afraid to let out. And this week, it boiled over. Corker, like a wronged spouse, ran to everyone who would listen and let fly the words he calculated would most wound Trump.

“He’s obviously not going to rise to the occasion as president,” Corker said. “I think at the end of the day, when his term is over, I think the debasing of our nation, the constant non-truth-telling, just the name-calling – I think the debasement of our nation will be what he’ll be remembered most for. And that’s regretful.”

On Tuesday morning, as Corker and Trump were trading barbs over Twitter and cable news, we asked Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., if Trump was helpful or harmful on the policy front. You may not be surprised to hear that Johnson declined to comment.

Trump prides himself as a counterpuncher. If you don’t want to get punched, just keep your mouth shut. Flake had often failed to do so, and Trump responded by going to Flake’s state and rallying a large crowd against him, and then not-very-subtly encouraging other Republicans to run against him in a primary. With Flake’s retirement announcement, Trump has accomplished his mission.

The relationship between Trump and the congressional GOP cannot become functional unless Trump decides it’s more important than being the best counterpuncher. Without a newfound and unexpected round of self-examination, they cannot govern together or improve the lives of those who voted for Trump and those who voted against him.

Can a broken marriage be repaired? Can Trump rise to the occasion as president? Not without a willingness to listen to the constructive criticism of his friends and change.

Erin Prater

Erin Prater

Erin Prater is Colorado Politics' digital editor. She is a multimedia journalist with 15 years of experience writing, editing and designing for newspapers, magazines, websites and publishing houses. Her previous positions include military reporter at The Gazette, general assignment reporter at The Huerfano County (Colo.) World, copy editor at David C. Cook publishing house and adjunct mass communication instructor at Pueblo Community College. Her bylines include The New York Times Upfront, The Argus Leader (Sioux Falls, S.D.), Military Spouse magazine and Omaha Magazine (Omaha, Neb.). Her syndicated bylines include The Denver Post, MSNBC.com, Military.com and wire services.