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Trump Is Scaring Republicans Straight (Temporarily)

Some Republicans are speaking out against Trump. But is it a newfound decency or political calculation that is making them do so?

No matter what you think about Donald Trump, one thing he seems to be accomplishing is his promised shakeup of the political classes in Washington. Everyone knew Democrats would find little good in a Trump administration. But what he probably didn't expect was that he would very quickly see many Republicans turning on him and his policies as well.

Think back to not so many years ago, during the days of the George W. Bush administration. Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment, "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican" was in full effect. Most Republican office holders rarely offered public criticism of Bush or his policies. "Party discipline" was the watchword and it was on full display.

That discipline continued through the Obama years, with the GOP rank and file marching lockstep behind their leaders in near 100 percent opposition to anything and everything President Obama tried to do. But now, in the age of Trump, there are cracks in party discipline, as first one member, then another, backs away from the White House position on issue after issue.

The sight of Republicans running for the hills to avoid being seen as agreeing with Trump began in earnest after their Orange King tweeted that President Obama had tapped the phones in Trump Tower. Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse quickly called for Trump to produce evidence to support his claim.

"The president today made some very serious allegations, and the informed citizens that a republic requires deserve more information," Sasse said 

Trump threw the issue to Congress, demanding that the intelligence committees investigate his charge. That resulted in more Republicans standing in front of microphones, admitting sheepishly that they could find no evidence to support Trump's claims. House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes said,

"Are you going to take the tweets literally? If you are, then clearly the president was wrong."

Then on March 17, Oklahoma Representative Tom Cole did something that would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago: he said that Trump owes President Obama an apology. Speaking about the wiretap claim, Cole told reporters,

"I see no indication that that's true. And so it's not a charge I would have ever made. And frankly, unless you can produce some pretty compelling proof, then I think the president, you know, President Obama is owed an apology in that regard."

But it's not just things like that outlandish charge that are causing Republicans to hold their president at arm's length. A number are abandoning him on policy issues, too.

Take the row that has developed within the GOP over "Trumpcare," the leadership crafted, Trump-approved American Health Care Act that is now pushing its way through the House. The plan has faced opposition from both moderate and conservative Republicans in the House, and enough GOP senators have spoken out against the bill in its current form that it is likely to be DOA if or when it reaches the Senate.

And now it's the budget. Trump's mega-austere budget outline eliminates federal funding for the Meals On Wheels program. That didn't sit well with New York congressman and longtime Trump supporter Chris Collins.

"This is the President's budget, I'm not sure where the details came from," Collins told CNN. "But when we get into appropriations, Meals on Wheels is a wonderful program. It is one I would never vote to cut even one dollar."

So what is it with these Republicans who are taking every opportunity to get in front of a camera and tell Americans they disagree with a Republican president? Has the rank and file of the GOP suddenly rediscovered its long-lost sense of decency, missing since at least the Gingrich era of the 1990s? Don't count on it.

The purest example of the political animal in 21st century America is the modern Republican. Despite constant claims that they always do the right thing for the country and their constituents, Republicans look at every issue through the lens of "is this likely to cause me to lose my next election?" That is exactly what is happening now.

Former Nixon lawyer John W. Dean, in his book Broken Government, explained how Republicans and Democrats differ in their philosophies. Dean said that he believes Democrats, when in power, sincerely try to improve the situation of average Americans. Republicans, on the other hand, wield power for power's sake. They use that power to enrich themselves, their families and their political allies. And they can't do any of those things if they are not in office, so getting and retaining power is paramount.

The current president, the leader of the Republican party, is opposed by a majority of Americans. Republican officeholders know that a number of the president's proposed policies would hurt their constituents, and supporting those policies would hurt their chances of continuing to be part of the government they claim to hate. Several Republicans who represent states that accepted the Obamacare Medicaid expansion offered up the potential harm to their constituents as their reason for opposing the current GOP healthcare bill.

Well, they're representing their constituents, which is what they're supposed to do, right? Of course it is. But look at how gleefully many of those same Republicans have stabbed their poor and elderly constituents in the back when the interests of those groups have not represented a majority of voters in their states or congressional districts.

Making sure that the elderly have food, that low wage workers can see the doctor when they need to, that the homeless have a place to stay on cold winter nights, that those with mental health issues can get help, that veterans who suffer from maladies that stemmed from their service -- all of those things are the right things to do, whether the need in any particular state is great or small. And they are all things that most Republicans will only support if they see a positive political outcome for themselves.

So no, unfortunately we are not seeing a great re-awakening of conscience in the GOP. It's business as usual, except that now many Republicans forced to speak out against a president who is proving himself to be even more heartless than they are.