A bold statement Wednesday from former Secretary of Defense Gen. James Mattis eviscerating Donald Trump has landed like a bomb in the Senate Republican caucus, sending members fleeing in all different directions.
While many Senate Republicans are doing their usual duck and dodge move, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska made some truly notable remarks about Mattis’ contention that Trump is a threat to the U.S. Constitution.
“When I saw General Mattis’ comments yesterday I felt like perhaps we are getting to a point where we can be more honest with the concerns that we might hold internally,” Murkowski said, calling Mattis’ words “true, and honest, and necessary and overdue.”
Murkowski said she was “struggling” with whether to support Trump, adding: “I think right now we are all struggling to find ways to express the words that need to be expressed appropriately, questions about who I’m going to vote for, not going to vote for, I think are distracting at the moment.”
Murkowski clearly isn’t done talking yet, noting that she was “working as one individual to form the right words.”
But Murkowski’s acknowledgment that she is virtually alone in her caucus is accurate. Utah Sen. Mitt Romney is the only other Senate Republican so far to willingly remark on Mattis’ excoriation of Trump, called the retired Marine four-star general “an American patriot” and his letter “stunning and powerful.”
Practically every other Senate Republican is burying their head in the sand even as they refrain from criticizing a person of Mattis’ stature.
As he left the Senate floor, GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell silently brushed past reporters inquiring about the letter. That’s the second time this week McConnell has gone silent. He also couldn’t bring himself to comment on whether he supported Trump’s threat to use military force on American citizens.
Other members of the GOP caucus also shrank from questions. Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa declined to comment. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas offered, “I didn’t see what he said.” Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, originally suggested Mattis had been duped and misquoted by the press. (Note: Mattis issued a lengthy statement of his own volition.) Told that Mattis actually wrote a letter and asked again whether he agreed with the content of it, Inhofe ducked. “I don’t agree that I should pass judgment on what he should be writing,” he said.
And then there’s the simply next-level stupidity of Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Asked about Mattis’ withering criticism of Trump forcibly clearing peaceful protesters for his bizarro photo op, Johnson offered: “I still haven’t seen any footage of how the crowd was cleared out.” Just a total news blackout over there in Johnson’s bunker. Johnson did, however, say Mattis was “free to express” his opinion. Bold.
Don’t expect any Senate Republicans to declare a meaningful break from Trump anytime soon. As conservative commentator George Will told MSNBC Wednesday, Senate Republicans have “outsourced their consciences.”
But Murkowski’s comments undoubtedly make life more difficult for vulnerable Republicans like Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Cory Gardner of Colorado. It’s why McConnell and Ernst, who are both up for reelection, chose to just keep their traps shut. And although nearly every Republican has sold their souls to Trump, none of them want to cross someone with the moral authority of Gen. Mattis, who counseled Americans in no uncertain terms to abandon Trump.
“We can unite without him,” Mattis wrote, an extraordinary comment for a man who spent 50 years deferring to the orders of U.S. presidents.