Sen. John Cornyn of Texas shared a masked photo of himself on Instagram Monday. “We all have to do our part. Maintain social distancing but if you can’t, do this,” wrote Cornyn, who’s up for reelection in November in a seat that would normally be a gimme. “Easy peasy. Go for it.”
When Donald Trump has lost go-along-to-get-along John Cornyn, that’s a problem. Even GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, also seeking reelection, weighed in on the side of masking up. “There’s no stigma attached to wearing a mask. There’s no stigma attached to staying six feet apart,” McConnell told Kentuckians Thursday at a local event, adding, “you have an obligation to others.”
What we’re witnessing here is Senate Republicans, who occupy relatively safe seats in any other electoral environment, putting a little extra piece of insulation between themselves and Donald Trump. And it might not be as notable as it is but for two factors.
First, a huge part of the reason Trump behaves as ludicrously as he does today is precisely because Senate Republicans barely made so much as a peep while Trump ran roughshod over the Constitution and tried to steal the upcoming election with foreign assistance. So even these tiny ripples of dissent from McConnell and Cornyn suggest that three years of the Senate Republican “let Trump be Trump” modus operandi might be coming home to roost.
Second, what the two senators along with some other GOP politicians (such as red-state governors) are signaling about wearing masks is just grossly out of step with Trump, who is on an all-out anti-mask tear. After absolutely refusing to wear a mask in any public appearances for weeks because he reportedly thinks it makes him look bad, Trump turned his fire on presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden this week for daring to do what Trump couldn’t while memorializing veterans on Monday.
Pictures of the mask-clad Biden in aviators drew derision from conservative commentator and Trump toadie Brit Hume, who mockingly tweeted, “This might help explain why Trump doesn’t like to wear a mask in public.”
Trump, deathly afraid that someone might say the same of him if he actually wore a mask, piled on, tweeting Wednesday, “He looks better!”
By Thursday, the Trump campaign was debuting new Facebook ads featuring a maskless Trump against the backdrop of an American flag next to Biden wearing a mask with “Sleepy Joe” lettering and a Chinese flag behind him. Apparently, trying to stop the spread of a global pandemic is a slippery slope to communism.
New Trump campaign Facebook ads mock Biden wearing a mask with a China flag behind him
While Trump is shown with no mask in front of an American flag pic.twitter.com/xMIQD5nADf
— Will Steakin (@wsteaks) May 28, 2020
In case it isn’t perfectly clear, Trump has jumped off the deep end on this issue, not to mention the fact that he started escalating this fight right as the nation was on the precipice of reaching 100,000 American deaths due to coronavirus on his watch.
Additionally, one of the reasons some GOP senators are inching away from Trump’s crusade is that the polling is indisputably against his position. As the Washington Post noted, “three recent public polls have found that between 64 and 72 percent of the public says Trump should wear a mask,” including between 38% and 48% of Republicans.
On top of that, multiple polls this month have shown that anywhere between 72% and 84% of Americans say they have worn masks in public either regularly or all of the time, including at least 60%-plus of Republicans/Trump supporters in each poll.
Trump’s mask posture is just incredibly stupid on so many levels. It’s only playing to a fringe group of Trump’s loyalists within the Republican party and it’s setting him up to take the blame if a second coronavirus wave spikes after he pushed the country to reopen. Even Senate Republicans like Cornyn and McConnell don’t want any piece of that, and one has to wonder if more fissures will emerge.
So keep an eye on this tiny schism between Trump and the Senate GOP caucus. Senate Republicans will never publicly upbraid Trump. But this is the first public divergence between the two camps since Trump’s approvals started dipping (particularly among the key voting blocs of independents and older voters) and Senate Republicans have truly begun to wonder whether Trump will sink them all in November.