What would it take for Republicans to turn against Donald Trump?
Now, finally, we know.
For nearly three years, Republican lawmakers have stood with Trump, offering only isolated protest, through all manner of outrage. Disparaging Mexican immigrants. Videotaped boasts about sexually assaulting women. Alleging that his predecessor put a wiretap on him. Falsely claiming massive voter fraud. Racism directed at a federal judge. The firing of James B. Comey. Talk of women bleeding. A payoff to a porn actress over an alleged affair. A defense of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia. Support for Senate candidate Roy Moore despite allegations of child molestation. The guilty pleas of Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos and Rick Gates and the indictment of Paul Manafort. The botched travel ban and bungled repeal of Obamacare. Insulting Britain and other allies. Attacks on the FBI and judiciary and attempts to fire the attorney general. Talk of African “s---hole” countries. Questions about his mental stability. The lethargic hurricane response in Puerto Rico. The stream of staff firings and resignations and personal and ethical scandals, most recently Tuesday’s finding that Kellyanne Conway twice violated the Hatch Act.
Republican lawmakers were, by and large, OK with all that. But now Trump has at last gone too far. He has proposed tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum. And the Republican Party is in an all-out revolt.
House Speaker Paul Ryan fielded four questions at a news conference Tuesday morning and answered the same way four times: with a warning about the “unintended consequences” of Trump’s proposed tariffs.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke Tuesday afternoon of “a high level of concern” and fear that “this could metastasize into a larger trade war.”
The No. 2 Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, warned about “jeopardizing the economy.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, usually a Trump cheerleader, warned that it would be a “real mistake.”
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas urged Trump to “weigh carefully” what he’s doing.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida suggested a “scalpel not a sledgehammer.”
Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas, at a hearing Tuesday, warned Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that “retaliatory measures are already occurring.”
Rep. Jackie Walorski of Indiana wrote to Trump to say a manufacturer in her district called off an expansion because of the threatened tariffs.
Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee went to the Senate floor to warn that “tariffs are big taxes” and said a company in Tennessee suspended a planned expansion because of the tariff threat. He read into the record a Wall Street Journal editorial calling the tariffs Trump’s “biggest policy blunder.”
The Republican criticism poured forth, from Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rand Paul of Kentucky, from Reps. David Young of Iowa, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, and even from new Fed Chairman Jerome H. Powell.
And it isn’t just criticism. GOP lawmakers are considering action, even though options are limited: attempting to block the tariffs with veto-proof legislation or as part of a must-pass bill, or denying Trump fast-track trade negotiating authority when it comes up for renewal. Republicans have nudged Trump in their direction before, on taxes and immigration. But never before has there been a full-scale rebellion.