What color is the sky in GOP land?
I ask because Sunday night, when residents of the Eastern Seaboard were enjoying the last few hours of an unseasonably balmy weekend, the White House sent out a tweet with the caption: "First snow of the year!"
Given that it was approximately 55 degrees when the White House tweeted out "First snow of the year," this was a very odd claim. It prompted much commentary on social media. It has been pointed out that the picture was probably of the first snow, but it was taken Jan. 7 and only posted to Twitter on Jan 12. But, of course, the White House failed to clarify the tweet or provide any explanation.
This is a picayune error, one likely due to minor incompetence rather than malevolence. I do not want to belabor it, but the story highlights a few things about the White House. First, it makes these kinds of small screw-ups all the time. Second, to my knowledge the White House never admits error in these things, because that would imply presidential fallibility or some other such heresy.
Third, this is exactly the kind of story that an occasional White House news conference would solve, and yet Stephanie Grisham continues her streak of never having held one. This fact has caused a bipartisan group of her predecessors to publish an open letter calling for her to hold a few briefings, arguing among other things, "The country needs trusted sources of information delivered on a timely and regular schedule."
Grisham responded to this with a statement to Axios' Mike Allen inaccurately labeling the letter an example of "groupthink" and adding: "This president is unorthodox in everything he's done. He's rewritten the rules of politics. His press secretary and everyone else in the administration is reflective of that. . . . The press secretary briefs in the absence of the president, and this president is never absent - a fact that should be celebrated."
Grisham's fealty to her boss is emblematic of the Republican Party as a whole these days. While President Donald does not command 95% support from Republicans despite his repeated claims to the contrary, he is very popular among them. That leads to stories like the one The New York Times's Elaina Plott tells about David Richter, the GOP challenger to Rep. Jeff Van Drew, the former Democrat who switched parties. Trump's full-throated endorsement of Van Drew obviously undermined Richter, who is still in the New Jersey race. And yet Richter refused to say, well, anything about the president: "Asked if he believes Mr. Trump has stayed loyal to his principles, Mr. Richter paused. 'No comment,' he said, then backtracked. 'And I don't want "no comment" to be my answer. No answer.' "
Similarly, the White House demonstrated its fury at Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., one of the most loyal Trump supporters in the House, for actually voting in favor of a measure to limit the president's authority to go to war with Iran. According to a The Washington Post, report: "A senior White House official said it was 'super uncool' and 'quite unwise' for Gaetz to push for limits on the president's authority. This person added that White House officials would not be returning Gaetz's phone calls, text messages, 'smoke signals or his kneelings in the snow.' "
So this is the world the Trump has created in GOP land: opaque in its intentions, fanatical in its conviction that the president and his White House minions are infallible, and zealous in punishing unbelievers. Which is why this Politico story by Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine is so interesting:
"While Senate Majority Leader [Mitch] McConnell has locked up enough Republican votes to ignore demands for a bipartisan framework for Trump's impeachment trial, his Democratic counterpart is readying a counteroffensive. Schumer will force a series of votes designed to squeeze vulnerable Republicans and harm them on the campaign trail if they side with Trump. . . .
"Democrats argue the half-dozen at-risk GOP senators will need some daylight between them and Trump to get reelected. And if they vote against Schumer's motions to hear new evidence and witness testimony, they'll be seen as Trump sycophants - undermining their bids and boosting Schumer's odds of becoming majority leader.
"Support for obtaining new documents at the trial is 'even stronger than we thought, with large numbers of Republicans supporting it,' Schumer, D-N.Y., said in an interview. 'And when you go against what the American people feel strongly about, on an issue they're paying attention to, it's not a good idea.'"
Schumer may well be correct. The New York Post's Steven Nelson and Ebony Bowden reported that Sen. Susan Collins is "working with a 'fairly small group' of fellow Republican senators to ensure witnesses can be called." And CBS News' Ben Tracy and Kathryn Watson report that "senior White House officials tell CBS News they increasingly believe that at least four Republicans, and likely more, will vote to call witnesses."
Still, Trump's repeated demands for loyalty from GOP members of Congress lead me to remain skeptical. I can believe someone such as Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, secure in his seat, can afford to challenge Trump. Maybe outgoing Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee can do the same. Anyone in the GOP running for reelection in 2020, however, needs the president's full-throated support. And perhaps everyone running in 2022 as well.
When the House impeachment inquiry started, it seemed that a few retiring GOP House members might vote in favor of impeachment. That proved to be a chimera. Perhaps the Senate will be different, but it seems likely that any GOP defections will be limited to procedural votes. At this point, it seems as though loyal Republicans will jettison their values far quicker than their devotion to the 45th president. It will be a pleasant surprise if this turns out not to be true.
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Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.