CNN’s Manu Raju popped the question to Sen. Bob Corker as the two men strolled down a Capitol Hill hallway on October 24. “Is the President of the United States a liar?”
It’s the type of question that rarely gets a straight answer from a politician, especially one from the same party. But the Tennessee senator embraced the moment. “The president has great difficulty with the truth, on many issues,” Corker replied.
Raju pressed. “Do you regret supporting him in the election?”
“Let’s just put it this way,” Corker continued, “I would not do that again. … He’s proven himself unable to rise to the occasion.”
Corker’s criticism of Trump was hailed as principled and clear-eyed, putting him in a league of Republicans retiring or battling serious health concerns who could break from party ranks and speak truth to folly. And it wasn’t just talking heads partaking in the rebranding exercise. A day after the hallway exchange between Raju and Corker, Chuck Schumer, the Democratic senator from New York, called Corker a man of “principle, decency, and conscience.”
In 2017, speaking out against Donald Trump’s lunacy became an easy path to becoming a politician of principle. But the problems that most “principled politicians” had with their new leader seemed to be rhetorical and stylistic rather than substantive. Republican critics saw Trump as untrustworthy, crude, unstable, bombastic—with no respect for established norms. But on the policy front—on matters that have a direct impact on the American people—more often than not, these “politicians of principle” have been voting in lockstep with the president.
Corker has voted with Trump 85% of the time. He voted for every nominee Trump has put forth—including the ones who are gutting government agencies. He’s voted to rollback a rule that limits states’ ability to drug test people applying for unemployment benefits, to let states withhold federal funding from health centers that perform abortions, and to repeal a rule requiring energy companies to reduce waste and emissions. Corker did, however, display his principles by breaking with the president to vote against disaster relief for Puerto Rico.
Recently, Republicans pushed through the innocuous-sounding “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.” In October 2017, Corker told NBC’s Chuck Todd that he wouldn’t vote for a tax plan that added one penny to the deficit because, “It is the greatest threat to our nation.” The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says the new GOP bill will raise the federal deficit $1.4 trillion over the next 10 years. That’s 140,000,000,000,000 cents. Corker voted for it.
The overwhelming majority of congressional Republicans vote with Trump well over 90% of the time. That lockstep vote is so important to Republicans that many prominent party members were willing to overlook Roy Moore’s blatant racism and alleged pedophelia to defend their majority vote.
So maybe we shouldn’t read too much into Republican outrage about manners and decorum. Perhaps we shouldn’t subscribe to the idea that Trump is this huge anomaly in the Republican Party.
The Republicans are on the same page on most things that matter to them, despite the media-hyped tensions between Trump and the Corkers, Flakes, and McCains. There is no civil war in the Republican Party. A civil war implies that there are two sides ready to decimate each other, and there isn’t much evidence to suggest that that’s true within the Republican Party. Trump and the Republican Party are enlisted in the same army, fighting to preserve the same ideals.
Trump may be a crude, reckless, and self-serving frontman, but much of his agenda is Republican to the core. Ignore the thoughtful rhetoric; the proof is in the voting records.