Something important happened yesterday. Republican members of Congress, bucking their leadership, did something incredibly stupid. (That’s not the amazing thing; that’s the normal part.) The surprising thing is that a Republican leader had the leverage, authority and ambition to force them to quickly reverse course.
I’m speaking, of course, about President-elect Donald Trump’s tweet, which helped Republicans reconsider their ill-advised attempt to weaken the Office of Congressional Ethics. (We can argue over the merits of this move, but the politics were awful.)
Now, I’m not suggesting that media coverage and constituent calls didn’t have an impact in terms of bringing Republicans to their senses, but Donald Trump’s tweet seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. As Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole told CNN’s Erin Burnett, “I think he deserves a lot of the credit.”
This was noteworthy because you’d probably have to go back to before the Harriet Miers fiasco to find a time when a Republican leader could evoke fear and obedience in the hearts of rank and file Republicans. I was starting to wonder if it was possible.
Let’s face it, getting people to follow you is harder than ever. Technology like Twitter, coupled with reforms like the loss of earmarks and the weakening of political parties (and the subsequent rise of outside groups), have made it easier to herd cats than to lead recalcitrant politicians.
That’s not to say this is an entirely positive development. Although all presidents begin with a “bully pulpit,” one gets the sense that Trump’s megaphone might be louder than most. Political leadership is philosophically (and morally) neutral, and Trump could use this leverage for evil as well as good.
To paraphrase Huxley, total anarchy and total efficiency are both dangerous.
Still, for too long, Republicans have been living with an extreme version of the former. And while there might be some negatives associated with Trump serving as the undisputed leader of the GOP, it is refreshing to see that someone has the authority to force Republicans to back down from stupid, quixotic moves.
Where was he during that government shutdown?